Tuesday, May 11, 2021

American Calligraphy #20: Thruway exit

 ABCs of the USA: The stories behind America’s most distinctive calligraphy styles.

The apparent slant here comes
 from the camera's angle. 
   These letters have legibility as their immediate aim, with safety as their ultimate purpose. They must be readable instantly at midnight or noon, in rain, fog, glare, or snow, sometimes from half a mile away. As highway speeds got faster in the 1950s and 1960s, a car trip demanded ever quicker decisions. Clear, standardized signage replaced local hand lettering to make roads safer and journeys happier. 
Image © SEPS, courtesy of Curtis Licensing.

    Today's interstate signs are the outcome of decades of typographic testing. The letter style, constantly researched, tweaked, and upgraded, balances the uniformity of Block letters against the individuality of Roman. The white or pale yellow-green letters are at least 3" high; upper and lower case is more readable than all-capitals, especially if a and g keep the traditional forms of a and g; reflective glass beads intensify the green background paint (but not the letters, which would tend to blur). Different sign colors and silhouettes alert the driver to other turnoffs for parks, memorials, and services. Visual clutter was further reduced by the 1965 Highway Beautification Act, which tightly controlled ads on federal highways. 

    Next time you take your exit in a blizzard at night without panic, you can thank the designers who spent decades creating the pages and pages of federal specifications that made those highway signs so easy to read.  

1 comment:

  1. Margaret Sheherd has a rare ability among artists to show the artistry of designing words and its practical importance in saving lives and avoiding crashes. Geoffrey Shepherd