The Not-So-Clear View

What’s in a name? Well, if your font name is Clearview, I’d say it’s pretty obvious.

Apparently, the federal government has decided otherwise. Say goodbye to easy-to-read highway signs. The Federal Highway Administration will be reverting back to their old font, Highway Gothic. What’s the big deal, right? Well, as someone who looks at fonts all day long and has created everything from postcards to billboard signs—this is a REALLY BIG deal. It’s the difference between being able to clearly read highway/street signs from a distance, especially at night, and not being able to. More people need to understand that there is a big difference between a serif and a sans serif font. And font sizes and styles really do matter.

As we age, our eyes tend to see fonts differently. Just the right/wrong curve or a bold or italic typeface can make a font difficult to read. Depending on what fonts are being used, a lowercase “g,” “p,” or “q” can easily get mixed up. Then there’s the lowercase “a,” “c,” “o,” and “e.” In the uppercase letters you have to think about letters like “E,” “F,” and “P” or “D,” “C,” and “O.” These are all letters that tend to get interchanged with one another when your eyesight is not the best. Just ask your local optometrist. It’s why your basic vision test (developed by ophthalmologist Herman Snellen in 1862—yes 1862!) looks like this:

Considering that test was developed in 1862, it’s pretty obvious that experts have known for scores of years that people can have trouble seeing/interchanging letters if their vision isn’t the best. Many wonder why the Federal Highway Administration is going back to using Highway Gothic. I think, as does the author of this New York Times article, that it comes down to money. The feds picked a font that wasn’t free. Clearview is a font you have to purchase a license to use. My only question is why Highway Gothic? It’s one of hundreds of free fonts that could have been chosen. They should have spent a little more time and done a little more research to find a more suitable font for our nation’s highways.

So next time you look up to take an exit or make that wrong turn, think about the sign you just saw. Did you get lost because of your GPS or did you get lost because someone picked a terrible font and you accidentally read the street sign wrong?


Written by Johanna Daproza, Creative Director at Vector TalentMEDIA. For more information about how TalentMEDIA’s design team can help you, contact Johanna at