The mixed messages of a new subdivision sign with red brick but a modern font

A new subdivision I drive by regularly has this as its sign at the entrance off a busy road:

I think I get what the sign is trying to signal:

-Tradition and permanence with the red brick. It signals this is an impressive community that is here to stay. This is not a small sign either; it will be noticeable from a road on which people are driving 45 mph.

-The modern font suggests the neighborhood is not stuck in the past, even if other parts of the sign suggestion a connection to the past. The clean, crisp lines of the letters plus the all-caps first word and not capitalized second suggest dynamism, not stodginess.

Can a subdivision sign have it both ways? Can the font push one direction while the structure of the sign push another?

(Bonus features of the picture: the sales sign for the subdivision is more standard emphasizing “MODELS OPEN” and the starting prices, this is a good encapsulation of what February in the Chicago suburbs often looks like.)

Highway sign fonts and other fixes for American roads

The use of Clearview font on highway signs is ending:

In a notice posted in the Federal Register on Monday, the U.S. Federal Highway Administration announced a small change that has huge implications for the nation. The agency terminated an order it had issued back in 2004 approving the use of a new font in highway signs. Now those signs are going to change. Again…

Clearview was made to improve upon its predecessor, a 1940s font called Highway Gothic, at a time when an aging Baby Boomer generation meant lots of older drivers on the road. Certain letters appeared to pose visibility problems, especially those with tight interstices (or internal spacing)—namely lowercase e, a, and s. At night, any of these reflective letters might appear to be a lowercase o in the glare of headlights…

Officials in Canada and Indonesia have promoted Clearview as a standard. Transport, which was designed for U.K. roads by Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert, is the most famous example of a systemic transportation font standard. Clearview evolved as an outside recommendation, a best-practices approach from the private sphere, not as a regulatory shift. In the U.S., Meeker says, institutional interest in better standardization is tepid.“Traffic design is the greatest public manifestation of government on any given day,” Meeker says, “and yet it’s the most dreadful, tired, unresearched, undesigned part of the public interface with government.”

For a country that emphasizes driving, Americans can be oddly disinterested in best practices for road design. Perhaps that love of the freedom that driving offers carries over to thinking about roads: every driver for themselves. Beyond this story about moving away from an easier-to-read font, here are some other ways American roads could be improved:

Road diets – limiting or taking away lanes – would actually help limit traffic and can improve safety.

-Encouraging mass transit use (though often difficult) can help reduce congestion.

Zipper merges are more efficient for drivers.

-Paying for road maintenance now may not be thrilling or seem as pressing as other concerns but it can pay off down the road.

Synchronizing traffic signals can reduce congestion and save time.

-Certain road signs, such as those asking drivers to slow down for children, do not necessarily help. In fact, they may be ignored or even distract.

“A Font Made Entirely of Satellite Imagery of Buildings”

A new font makes use of depictions of buildings from above:

Benedikt Gross, a data visualization designer, and Joey Lee, a geographer, spend a lot of time looking at satellite imagery. The duo met at MIT’s Senseable City Lab a few years ago and after realizing their mutual enthusiasm for maps—or, more exactly, strange patterns in the Earth’s surface—decided to collaborate on a dataset called The Big Atlas of LA Pools, inspired by the many shapes of pools in Los Angeles.

Gross and Lee are now onto their new project, Aerial Bold. Once completed, it will be the first typeface created from shapes and patterns from the planet’s topology. Whereas The Big Atlas of LA Pools began as a mission to compare pools per capita with other datasets (like neighborhood crime), Aerial Bold was born from a few errant observations. “Basically we spend so much time looking at satellite images, that we realized there are some letters in them,” Gross says. As is often the case with noticing an oddity for the first time, once they saw a few letters, “suddenly letters were all over the place.”…

First, they synthesize satellite imagery and prep it so an algorithm can read it. This involves cranking up the contrast and blocking out distinct shapes in red. Their software can read those blocks of color and extract letters. So far Gross and Lee have scanned images of Germany, Turkey, Paris, Denmark, Switzerland, California, and New York. Gross says that letters made mostly of right angles, like I and H, have shown up most frequently…

Besides creating the promised font out of satellite images, Gross says Aerial Bold could have any number of creative uses for artists. He and Lee have been approached by publishers interested in flipping the typology into a children’s book on the ABCs—something that Gross mentions could live in a digital format. They also want to share their image-detection methods with the public.

As someone who enjoys cities as well as overhead satellite views, this is quite clever. Such a project also produces a font for the covers of all the new books about cities as well as college campus posters about classes and lectures having to do with urban areas or buildings.