Detailed Look at New Road Sign Design

A terrific article in today’s NY Times about the design of a new typeface for US highway signs. There’s a slideshow accompanying it which goes into detail of how the font evolved and went through iterations and testing. Rarely do we see such a detailed look at a design process in the mainstream press.

The typeface is the brainchild of Don Meeker, an environmental graphic designer, and James Montalbano, a type designer. They set out to fix a problem with a highway font, and their solution — more than a decade in the making — may end up changing a lot more than just the view from the dashboard. Less than a generation ago, fonts were for the specialist, an esoteric pursuit, what Stanley Morison, the English typographer who helped create Times New Roman in the 1930s, called “a minor technicality of civilized life.” Now, as the idea of branding has claimed a central role in American life, so, too, has the importance and understanding of type. Fonts are image, and image is modern America.

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What started as a project to organize information for tourist routes in Oregon would soon turn into an all-consuming quest, and one that marked the first time in the nation’s history that anyone attempted to apply systematically the principles of graphic design to the American highway.

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View the slideshow