June 17, 2004

Road Signs

old Singapore road sign

new Singapore road  with Rotis

The new signs (second photo) uses the typeface Rotis (1989) which was designed by Otl Aicher (1922 - 1991), who named the face after the village where he lived from 1972. He also designed Traffic for the Munich public transport system.

See also Is Rotis a typeface?.

Posted by Karen at June 17, 2004 02:04 PM in typography

What typeface is Esplanade? It’s neither DIN Mittelschrift nor FF Din. And it doesn’t use any of these Standard Sign Typefaces (that seem to oscillate).

Posted by: Roderick at June 25, 2004 01:00 PM

Hey, you read my mind. I was about to post that link too.

I don’t know what font it is either. I’ve just asked the guys at typophile. Hopefully, they can ID it.

Posted by: Karen at June 28, 2004 11:29 AM

They think that Helvetica Inserat and Folio Bold Condensed are really close. And even did a little comp for me! Sweet sweet people the typophiles are.

Posted by: Karen at July 8, 2004 11:37 AM

Toronto has chosen Terminal Design’s Clearview for their new street signs. But I prefer the old one as I find it more legible and also has that honest, undesigned, olde world charm about it.

Posted by: Karen at July 12, 2004 04:10 PM

I think road signs needs to be more neutral than Rotis. Like they should be monoline (or nearly so).


Posted by: Hrant at July 18, 2004 03:29 AM

Why do they need to be neutral? Is it cos the typeface should not be distracting? Or is it your personal preference?

Is monoline same as grotesque (he he, just realised I’m not sure of the correct spelling, is this right?)? For some reason, I associate monoline with scripts and grotesque with sans serifs.

Anyway, I also think that road signs should be more grotesque because thin strokes tend to disappear when the signs are viewed from far and this is especially severe on a face like Rotis where the stroke variation is so great.

Posted by: Karen at July 18, 2004 06:26 PM

I think road signs need to be neutral because they should be giving “just the facts”, not “opinions”.

Monoline vs Grotesque:
Type terminology is generally pretty contested, but to me monoline simply means that there’s no stroke contrast (think/thin)*, while grotesque is more of a structural thing, like Franklin is a grot. A font could be both of course (and many are).

* Or at least no apparent stroke contrast: in mathematically equal vertical and horizontal stems the former will look thicker, so compensation might be necessary.


Posted by: Hrant at July 19, 2004 03:10 AM

What does Rotis say about us?
Look at me! I’m soo trendy.

I started doing some kind of straw poll among non-designers about which sign they prefer and which they find more readable. And I’m quite surprised that almost everyone so far has said that they find Rotis, with it’s ultra-wide tracking easier to read, even though some of them prefered the old sign.

Which leads me to wonder if all my whining are simply a result of reading too much typophile, and regurgitating what the experts are saying.Perhaps designers are too biased to give Rotis a fair chance.

But the only way to test this empirically is through a well-designed test, in which I imagine, road signs are flashed a varying speeds towards a group of subjects, to simulate viewing the signs in a moving vehicle. The time taken to read each sign is then recorded.

And I think this would eliminate the emotional influence on their answers, eg “I like this font, so I think it’s readable.” I don’t mean to insult the subjects, I really think it could happen.

Posted by: Karen at July 20, 2004 12:37 AM

> I started doing some kind of straw poll

Good for you! A smart designer.

But don’t be surprised: as I constantly point out, what people verbalize has little to do with what their “firmware” actually needs.

And yes, know when and how to ignore designers! The artist in them is always looking for self-validation, more than serving the “user”.


Posted by: Hrant at July 20, 2004 04:41 AM

Empircal testing would definitely stray one away from the typography. But these things are usually about usability and not form.

If you’ve ever taken an eye test, generally, identifying the font is the last thing on our mind. If the eyechart looked like this we’d be seeing a different eye doctor. Keenly designed, it might look like this instead.

Then again, if you talking on your cell and eatin’ lunch and just missed your exit signage just doesn’t matter much. Too, if you’re lost and refuse to ask for help, then all bets are off!

Posted by: Roderick at July 20, 2004 01:23 PM

Oh yeah! I like the typomatic ones.

I once saw a man tuck into a piping hot bowl of congee at a traffic light. When the light turns he passes it to his wife who doubles up as a table I guess.

Posted by: Karen at July 20, 2004 05:49 PM