by CeCe Ramey
Typefaces are the clothes that our words wear. They are often chosen carefully to apply another layer of meaning to a piece of literature or art, or they are used to add identity to a brand. The word "people" has a different feeling when it is in Comic Sans versus Times New Roman. A funny thing to ask yourself as you walk by store signs is "What does that typeface make me feel?" A great tip is to quickly look and compare lowercase e, a, and g's when you get a chance. Many food companies choose typefaces with very wide smiling e's. But anyways..
To get back on topic and to my point, typefaces easily imbue meaning into words. They set a tone. However, this ability is also distracting under the wrong circumstances. Sometimes you need silence in typeface design, so that the information comes across clear and unadulterated. One instance of this is in road signs.
I very much doubt you have ever stopped at an intersection, looked at the road sign above the stop light, and said "Wow, what a pretty typeface!" To be honest, road sign typefaces are the ugliest boring typefaces I have ever seen. And this is why I find them oddly charming and very interesting.
There are two typefaces used in the United States, Clearview and Standard Highway Alphabet (aka FHWA, also aka Highway Gothic). FHWA or Highway Gothic is the older typeface developed in the United States during the Second World War. Recently, it has slowly been phased out with Clearview which is easier to read since the letters have more counter space, the space within letters. Notice how the Clearview lowercase e extends further than the Standard Highway Alphabet. The terminals in Clearview also all end with strong horizontal edges unlike the Standard Highway Alphabet (compare the ascender/vertical line of the d's). The x-height, or the height of the lowercase letters, is also larger in Clearview, causing the lowercase letters to be seen from farther away.
Small details in typeface design make all the difference. To make a typeface "silent" is not to make it indistinct, it is still important that each letter of a typeface clearly legible from another. Every typeface chosen for a text, book, paper, sign, billboard, or art is chosen for a reason by the maker. Even in our boring road signs.