24 January 2010

[Address_Nerd] New Portland Street Blades Evolve, and More Clearview Type

2306.We haven't had the chance to go on sign safari for a long time, the only explanation being It's Complicated. But we finally have bagged some big game, and I'm actually delighted to say that the design of the next generation of Portland street blades is evolving in attractive and designerly ways that can only imbue the heart of an Address Nerd with glee.

I first saw this example of design at the corner of E Burnside and SE 103rd Avenue, in the Russellville area of outer eastside Portland. But I'm getting ahead of myself. The first chance I got to actually snap a picture is here, and E Burnside and NE 68th Avenue, which is just down from the brow of the hill where you shunt off Burnside via SE Gilham Avenue to get to Thorburn Street and downtown Montavilla:

This blade is on the south side of E Burnside; the blade reads NE 68th Av because the street only extends north of Burnside at that point. A close look at both blades reveals a designerly concept known as hierarchy at work:

Note the directional and the generic are the same size and weight. The specific ("Burnside") stands out; if you're glancing at any speed, you'll take in that you're on Burnside in a flash.

Same as the named-blade, the numbered blade shows the same sense of hierarchy. Note also that on both blades the baseline is shared between the big letterforms and the small letterforms – and the ordinal, the "th" on 68th, now is rid of the awkward capital letter we saw on the sign at SE 47th and Hawthorne Blvd. Compare:

Also, the letterspacing overall is exactly what it should be – everything lives comfortably on the blade, nothing's crowding yet everything has room to breath. Likey? You bet! Notice also the lack of a white margin all around. I liked the white margin at first, but the lack of same is actually an improvement.

I'm really starting to hope the blades are evolving in that direction.

Also sighted: This set at NE 42nd and Halsey, directly across from the TriMet Hollywood Transit Center/MAX station, and on the same block as the Hollywood Trader Joe's Market:

We now have a very clear idea of how the blade sets will look when mounted as a corner assembly. Particularly attractive is the way the block face number now lives comfortably in the area above the street generic abbreviation – on the previous blade versions the block number sat in the upper left corner, awkwardly and a bit uncomfortably – as above, the letterspacing and leading is immaculate and exactly appropriate.

It's not just the street blades that are getting the Clearview treatment. Directional signs that have sprung up around the Hollywood business district also use it. Here's one directly adjacent to the above blades:

That's Clearview there, spelling out the name Tillamook St. The harm to letterspacing for letterforms this big is pair-to-pair kerning, and I can find little fault with the job done here. Someone's really paying strict attention, and bravo!

Another thing you'll find in the Hollywood district is new signs directing you to the Banfield Freeway from the north side. These too are in Clearview, but the font is all caps (words like EAST, WEST, above the I-84 shield on the overhead signs coming down from Sandy Blvd) so it might not be immediately evident, but the trained eye will see. I was unable to get a snap this time around, but we'll return there maybe soon.

Finally to cap all this off, is the place I first saw the new evolution. SE 103rd Avenue and East Burnside anchor a new development which is part of the old Russellville nabe. You have to be going eastbound on Burnside to see this. as east of East 99th Avenue, you have the MAX making this old road a necessarily divided highway, but as can probably be seen from the eastbound E 102nd Avenue MAX platform, is this:

Naturally, that caught my attention immeds, for being both the same and different from the street blades we've been assaying for the past half year (or longer?). Here's the one for 103rd Avenue:

And here's the one for E. Burnside Street. Nota Bene the block face in the upper right corner here: it's the numeral 1.

Burnside Street, as nobody needs be told, is the address baseline; going east and west from the Willamette River's origin, the lowest possible addresses on crossing avenues will be found here, and the block index is the lowest address possible on the block you're leaving (or entering, depending on the direction of travel). We note that the blade for Burnside at NE 68th Ave actually has no block index, and my guess is that since it's on the south side of the street and 68th does not have a block at that point, you wont be leaving or entering any block at that point (at least without major damage to your car, major dismay on the part of a property owner, and a significant divot in the side of Mount Tabor). By this logic, I'd expect the blade on the north side of NE 68th and E Burnside to have a "1" on the corner of the Burnside blade – when it does finally go up, of course.

A particularly good day to be an Address Nerd, as well as a typographer. We feel fulfilled.

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