12 June 2009

New Street Blades at SE 37th & Stark, New Font, Not Just Capitals!

2078.To a font geek, this find is quite exciting. And if you use signs at all, you need to keep an eye out, Tex, because what you're about to see is the future of highway sign fonts.

About a week ago we flashed past SE 37th Avenue and Stark Street in the middle of the night, and I caught it out the corner of my eye. It didn't register at first ... but were the letter forms on that sign actually in mixed case, rather than all uppers?

I didn't believe my memory at first, but I couldn't get that out of my mind. And then we went by the assembly again, and sure enough, it was. But it looked more designed than the typical, evenly-stroked, mechanical fonts that usually get used.

Here, see what I mean:

Let's get a closer look at the Stark Street blade:

Do you see what I mean here? The letters have some art to them. The stroke has thick-and-thin. It doesn't look like any sign font you've seen before.

Here's the 37th Avenue blade:

Notice the variation on the curves on the 3, the sweep of the downstroke of the 7 (and the mixed case of the ordinal superscript (Th)), which seems kind of awkward). This is not your father's sign font.

What it is a new font called Clearview. Here's the pith of what Wikipedia has to say about it (follow the link to see an illustration of it):

Clearview is the name of a humanist sans-serif typeface family for guide signs on roads in the United States. It was developed by independent researchers with the help of the Texas Transportation Institute and the Pennsylvania Transportation Institute, under the supervision of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

The standard FHWA typefaces, developed in the 1940s, were designed to work with a system of highway signs in which almost all words are capitalized. The designers of Clearview sought to create a typeface adapted for mixed-case signage, initially expecting it would be based on an existing European sans serif typeface.[1] Instead, using a similar weight to the FHWA fonts, a new font was created from scratch. Two key differences are much larger counter spaces, the enclosed spaces in letters like the lower case "e" or "a," and a higher x-height, the relative height of the lower case "x" to the upper case "X." Smaller counter spaces in the FHWA fonts reduced legibility, particularly when the letters glowed from headlight illumination at night.
So, that's the story there. Clearview is going to be seen more and more along America's highways as the 'aughties close and the teens begin, and I believe I may have turned up the first example of its use in Portland.

SCORE! 10 of 10!, , , , ,


Snowbrush said...

"To a font geek, this find is quite exciting."

When you're thrilled by small things, you definitely have the advantage of being thrilled more often.

Snowbrush said...

P.S. I asked to borrow something you wrote about musical blogs. I never used it, but I did write something myself in my post before last, the one about pet blogging peeves.

Samuel John Klein Portlandiensis said...

I really can't gainsay you there, Snowbrush. I see it as a definite good thing. Keeps life wonderful.

If you want ever to borrow anything from my blog, 'sokay by me! Just credit or link back is all I ask.

Benjamin Lukoff said...

I take it mixed-case is new to Portland? We've had it in Seattle since the 1960s, though the fonts have changed a couple of times. I miss the lowercase e's — they used to be at a jaunty angle. Ever seen one when you've been up here? They can still be seen, but are all in the process of being replaced.