How Do We Stay Safe?
Good design helps keep us safe, and can even save lives.
One of the clearest examples of the potential of design is when the medium transcends aesthetics. Good design helps keep us safe, and can even save lives.In the United States we have more than 160,000 miles of interlocking highways that can quickly become a hazardous maze when traveled at 65 miles per hour. But thanks to the clever work of typographers, the system is eminently navigable. The original Federal Highway Administration fonts (Highway Gothic, informally) went into service in the mid-1950s, the result of research by the California Department of Transportation into making road signs legible at speed, from as great a distance as possible. The font family has been tweaked several times through the years, most notably in the form of Interstate, a 1993 redrawing by the legendary type designer Tobias Frere-Jones.Noting a growing number of older American drivers, in 1994 the FHWA considered a new, larger font that would have required drastic increases in the size of highway signs. Instead, designers Donald Meeker and James Montalbano created a typeface called Clearview, which was more legible than Interstate though it used similar-sized letters. Clearview boasts a 20-percent increase in the distance at which it can be read, which means a driver can react to information on the sign two seconds faster (that's almost 100 feet at highway speeds). It can be seen on signs in Pennsylvania, Texas, and elsewhere, and is expected to replace most FHWA fonts in the coming decades.-ZACH FRECHETTE