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Archive for the category ‘information design’

Signs of change

Published

Seattle’s street signs have recently been undergoing a change. While they’re still the same recognizable freeway-green rectangles, outlined in white and with white letters reversed out of the green, the new signs have noticeably larger type. The old signs (top, left) were always easily legible – upper and lowercase letters, except in secondary information such as “AVE,” and always spaced loosely enough to be readable at an angle from a moving car – though a lot of the old signs are now too faded to do their job. (I had to search a bit to find an example of old signs that were still in good condition.) Even the numerals were legible, an important consideration in a city with lots of numbered streets.

The new street signs (bottom, left) aren’t obviously different, except that the letters are larger. They take up more of the space inside the green rectangle, which creates a less pleasing shape but make them readable from a greater distance away. They look a bit bloated when you see them from the sidewalk, as you walk along a city street; but from a moving car, they’re large and clear. Clearly that was the priority in their design.

Some of the small details are fussier in the new signs. It might seem better to have “Ave” in upper and lowercase letters, like the street name, since it’s more legible than the old all-caps setting; but this is purely secondary information, so it’s actually a distraction. Similarly, the gratuitous addition of superscripts such as “th” on “10th Ave E” just clutters things up. The simpler the form, the better, as long as the essential information is there.

In case you’re wondering, the arrows in the bottom photo are there simply because I took that picture at a peculiar intersection where streets come together at an angle.

Maximum unreadability

Published

This is a nearly perfect example of how not to space type, if you want the words to be read. It was a poster-size ad on the side of a bus stop near the 16th Street BART station in San Francisco; I snapped this photo several years ago, but I still haven’t run across a better bad example.

It’s a good thing the names are familiar; otherwise you might be wondering who “Oeune Don,” “Dxe Choks,” and “Mary J Buge” were. Perhaps if you were standing around for a long time waiting for a bus, and you had nothing better to do than puzzle out what this says, it would be effective. But the real point of advertising on bus shelters isn’t to reach the captive audience of bus-riders; it’s to catch the attention of the people driving by – for whom this collection of letters would look like a rickety bunch of yellow sticks.

If typography is all about negative space, this is negative typography.