August 24, 2012
[Bumped New Commentary] Signage: How Do You Really Screw Up Something Universal? Redesign It!
It may be said that "Not all who wander are lost," but the overweening ego that looks to redesign a common interface that has been taught to hundreds of millions guarentees that "all who read this will become lost if not injured and dead."
No profession other than politics has more raw hubris sewage sloshing about in it than "graphic" design. Manual is such a design firm; a firm so deeply sunk in slop that you know without looking that it has to be based in San Francisco and hence already targeted for nuking from orbit. But before they go out on the downstroke they'd like to take a crack at the road signage system. Why? Because they can ultimately write "an app for that."
All current drivers from 16 to 99 know what these mean.
Nobody knows what these mean. Care to figure them out at 70 MPH?
We took on the task of redesigning the US road signage system. For a country so heavily reliant on cars, we feel the current signage system is confusing, inconsistent and messy. Our plan is to modernize and add clarity to a signage system that millions of road users rely upon every day. .... For a country so heavily reliant on cars, we feel the current signage system is confusing, inconsistent and messy. Our plan is to modernize and add clarity to a signage system that millions of road users rely upon every day. The current use of shields feels dated and too “police state”, so we have abandoned them in the main system. However, we have retained a simplified shield for historic routes as we appreciate they may have a certain Americana charm. -- Manual / Icon Magazine - Rethink
Shields. So retro. So "police state," don't you know? Odds are whatever staff pretend to work at Manual have no problem voting for the current PC police state of San Francisco. And how does the so-edgily named operation known as "Manual" define itself? Via post-post-modern bullshit, of course: "Manual is a design and visual communication studio. Our work strives to uncover the intangible essence of a brand and express it through unique visual solutions. In doing so, we give brands more value and distinction."
So would you trust your day and your life at 70 MPH to this "branding bullshit" group? If so, pre-deploy your airbags and make ready for impact with the median!
HT: Tim George
Posted by gerardvanderleun at August 24, 2012 9:52 AM
However, we have retained a simplified shield for historic routes as we appreciate they may have a certain Americana charm ...for those rubes in flyover country.
I can smell the condescension from here.
Very pretty colors. Useless, and probably downright dangerous as highway signage, which should convey information with unmistakable clarity. But very much in keeping with SF's "rainbow" ethos.
Effing pompous idiots.
Not only unintelligible, but this line "However, we have retained a simplified shield for historic routes as we appreciate they may have a certain Americana charm."
I guess they had to destroy the shield (Route 66) in order to save it. NUKE them till they glow.
Voldemort Delenda Est !
Lots of effort to produce confusion and reduce effectiveness. Yup, all the hallmarks of Liberalism.
There's still too much fat in the economy if this outfit survives on either public or private $$, or both.
Exactly what CA needs is to spend tens of millions they do not have to change perfectly good road signage.
It's right up there with MTBE, another bright idea foisted on CA drivers from so-called experts.
A ride out of town on a split rail.
too good for 'em, but it'd get the point home.
You really expect me to belief you can't read those signs?
I hope this isn't true. Those signs look European and communistic.
Our plan is to modernize and add clarity to a signage system that millions of road users rely upon every day.
This word "clarity" I don't think it means what you think it means. . .
Voldemort Delenda Est !
Those signs look like event tickets printed with the best computer aided technology available in 1985.
Alan, of course we can read them. Sitting at my computer and taking the time I need to figure out what each sign is supposed to mean, no problem. While driving at highway speeds, problem.
Green paint not so green these days.
They don't "think" the "signage system is messy", they "feel" it is messy? Is "feel it is messy" kinda like "I feel happy" or kinda like "I feel angry", or "I feel hungry"? Did Albert say "I feel that 'e' equals MC-squared? I think their "signage system" is confusing, and their thinking not in evidence whatsoever.
You guys just don't get it.
You need to think progressively.
You see? Putting up all new signs means more money to the "right" companies.
Also, once you have the signs going up, naturally you'll need to relicense every driver on the road, for a modest fee of course. And it'll be a chance to deny some of those undesirables a new driving license.
This just looks like a win-win to me.
That white background will show up well in reduced visibility conditions...
Signs convey information. A de-sign company removes it. Of course it is more confusing.
Let's hope my Garmin works!
I'm with Gerard on this one, Alan. The design firm wants to take something that works very well and f*** it up.
Even subtle changes to the current design cause me problems. (Of course, it may be just me, but ......) Here in the PDRM (and maybe coming soon to an Interstate near you) they've been re-lettering the Interstate highway signs with a new font. Yes, it's the familiar, white-on-green printing with the usual graphics, but the font is now some sort of slenderized Helvetica, instead of the old-fashioned font (whatever it was). The old font was business-like: "Capisce, paisan? Good. Now get lost." The new Helvetica-like font is like Mae West: "Like what you see, big boy? Let your eyes linger on me...."
OK, so I'm weird. But it is a bit distracting to have something so visually attractive being used in a setting where attraction is actually undesirable. Like I said, maybe it's just me, but I have to wonder who dreamed up the change, who approved it, and why do they both still have jobs?
Pikesville, People's Democratic Republic of Maryland
Waltj, you have an exaggerated sense of your own incompetence.
Gentles, the problem is not that the signs are unreadable, it's that you haven't learned how to read them.
They've made the fonts a bit smaller, which I object to, but the layout of information is essentially the same, stacked over the appropriate lanes.
I don't like their condescension over the badges, but, hey, they're SF foofs.
I'm betting the old design was arranged so that the reflective lettering would stand out in a sea of plain, dark, matte dark color (green). No reason at all to mess with that idea ever. Reducing eye strain and distraction is (was) a primary goal for roadway sign design.
Notice how this Communist-looking amateur attempt closely resembles changes on the night panel of cars-- now we have bright cold white, blazing red or yellow instead of comforting, easy-on-the-eyes arc speedometers in luminous hazy green, just like on the old family station wagon.
Question is, do these developments portend something, or are they small parts of the "something" itself?
No, Alan, there's nothing exaggerated about it at all. As Clint Eastwood famously said, "A man's got to know his limitations". Getting used to a bunch of Rainbow Brite roadsigns at my advanced stage of middle age might just exhaust my remaining brain cells. Seriously, though, the signs are awful and seem intended more to convey the "artist's" personality than to quickly and clearly convey information.
If you were to spend just a few seconds of thought as to what these signs look like in the dark, you'd quickly realize that the designers completely forgot about it! As the daylight fades into dark, what do the letters do? Do the black letters go reflective as the white background goes dark? If the letters stay dark does the white become a giant panel of bright light?
The old system keeps the light on dark motif for ALL letters - simple, clean, and visible at night. Their system has no less than five variations - black on white, white on black, black on orange, black on yellow, white on green, blue, etc...
If they really wanted to be forward-looking and futuristic, they would add bar codes so robot cars could easily read them.
Did they mention a cost estimate for replacing signs on the entire interstate system?
Monty nails it. These new signs do not look bad and are attractive in their own way when viewed in a design setting, in daylight, and with few distractions. They fall down when nighttime, rain or snow, moving headlights, background lights and movement are considered.
It's all very well to suggest that we can adapt and grow to like (even prefer) these signs in the real world. But that assertion is made in a vacuum.
Penn State University and the University of Nebraska and a number of other research centers have devoted many man-years of effort studying human perception, eye-brain connections, and practical applications of signage in a multitude of settings.
The current white-on-green signage is evolving, with new fonts and reflective materials, based upon rigorous research that considers human perception and safety factors that this design firm has not, and likely has not even surveyed the topic prior to making their proposal.
Remember that an elderly, colorblind man driving on a rainy night has to quickly discern the sign's meaning. Manual has not proven that their design is an improvement over current signage.
"Gentles, the problem is not that the signs are unreadable, it's that you haven't learned how to read them."
I can read the old ones just fine. There is no rational reason to change them.
As a designer, I have to say that a lot of designers are idiots.
The shield is a common icon that goes back centuries. All designers should study history and iconography.
If they were honest they could just say they wanted a fat govt. contract.
"For a country so heavily reliant on cars, we feel the current signage system.."
There you have it - an admission that there is no actual thinking going on.
Just another strike in the battle by modern designers, especially those working on web site GUIs, against the typical (and fairly numerous) male color blindness sufferer.
We're going broke, the current signs work, so, hell, why not, lets spend a bazillion dollars on re-signing thousands of miles of interstate highways.
Don't bother spending a dollar on studying readability of the fonts, nor the contrast levels depending upon ambient light, sunrise, sunset, fog, smoke, headlight nor moonlight. Don't spend a penny putting up signage on the FAR side of the underpass or overpass telling whether the access ramp is a right turn or a left turn. Let us guess until we can see it past the normal curvature and height of the overpass, and then wait until the last minute to try to get over to the side we need.
Yeah, good idea. Let's export it to China and Russia, surely it will help their incredible mortality per mile traveled statistic. Not.
p.s. wonder how much they contributed to the campaign in 2008? Must've been good...
"Let us guess until we can see it past the normal curvature and height of the overpass, and then wait until the last minute to try to get over to the side we need."
So this must be the "standard" across the whole country then. I think it has something to do with city jurisdiction (streets) vs. that of the federal system. But that has bothered me for a long time. There is no justification for making the approach impossible to decipher until the last second.
Whatever tax leeches are to blame for this sort of thing must be in league with those who fail to synchronize lights and allow "stupid" reds to hold cross traffic when no one is even approaching the intersection. Truly intelligent design, even competent design, in this area would do more to conserve fuel and tempers than any so-called green scheme.
You are right as far as you go: yes, we haven't learned how to read them.
But why should we learn to read them? That design team in California is, in effect, asking us to stop speaking English (whatever its alleged deficiencies) and start speaking Esperanto instead.
Again, why, when the current system works so very well?
Pikesville, People's Democratic Republic of Maryland
Fonts look exactly like the ones I remember when driving the Autobahn....
Few things you guys should know before you start acting like this is actually happening.
1) The project was for a monthly magazine contest, where design firms redesign things that are used in everyday life. It is litterally just an idea. You know, those things people have? You can't convince me that no one here has ever had a bad idea. You have 435 congressional members who get paid a lot more money than this design firm to come up with dumb ideas.
2) Graphic design is very tough. You need logic, but you need to be creative about the logic you are trying to convey, and put it in a visual form. This is artistic and technical knowledge meshed together. For instance, your web address is a sans serif font, and not times new roman for several reasons. The visual weight is the same for characters, each letter is easily defined, and lacks the ornamental frills of other fonts.
3) It's a little ironic that the communistic comments were made with a font that was developed for universal readability. Just a funny twist.
4) You can't make any progress without deviating from the norm every once and a while. For being so quick to dismiss this as a product of pompousness or communisim, you all certainly aren't giving them the credit that they at least tried something different. How would you design something that is used in everyday life? What would you redesign- and why? Odds are there would be some pretty dumb redesigns across the board. And that's fine, because it helps refine dumb ideas into something that's new, and works. This sign scheme could very well be a dumb idea, but it also can be modified and worked on until it's something better.
It baffles me how upset people are getting at this. No, I don't live in SF. Not affiliated with any political party. I'm not a communist. Just someone who thinks different. Although, just saying someone who thinks might be a bit much.
I've often thought highway signage is left to summer interns. Signs should address two critical questions: What do motorists need to know? When do they need to know it?
The latter test is failed by signs on an expressway that announce "Podunk - Exit Left" just a hundred yards before one must cross several lanes.
The former test is failed by directions to "I-44 West" without explaining that I-44 W is ALSO the best way to a nearby junction with I-35 South.
Professional (retired) graphic designer here. These signs aren't bad as examples of design per se, but the current FHWA signage standard is extremely well-tested under real-world conditions and is more or less ideal for U.S. road conditions.
Negative-contrast signage (i.e. dark lettering on light background) works well in daylight and in generally sunny and clear climates (e.g., that of the Bay area), but in darkness and adverse weather the glare from the light, bright background washes out the detail of the lettering and reduces the words on the sign to a series of dots from the POV of the driver.
High-contrast signage (light lettering on dark background) using retroreflective materials makes the lettering, not the background, the main source of reflected light, opening up the letterforms and making them easier to read in poor viewing conditions and at speed.
Most people don't realize how heavily researched freeway signage standards are. The current FHWA standard typeface (Clearview), which replaced the old 1940s FHWA "Interstate" typeface beginning in '04, is the result of extensive real-world testing on actual signs placed on test tracks in typically varied U.S. weather conditions (in Texas and in Pennsylvania). By coincidence, Clearview is similar in many respects to the world's best-known public signage typeface, good old DIN 1451, which is the typeface used on freeway signs in Germany and in many other countries. As a result, U.S. highway signage now looks a lot like German signage, differing only in typical background color (green in the U.S., blue in Germany).
Sooner or later all freeway signage will probably be replaced by thin-film OLED or other active matrix displays, making each sign its own light source and allowing highway officials to modify and update highway signage in real time. Until then, I think the signage standard we have now is demonstrably equal to the task of guiding drivers safely around our road system.
allowing highway officials to modify and update highway signage in real time
There's something about the above phrase that doesn't sit right.
"You can't convince me that no one here has ever had a bad idea."
Most of us choose to throw our bad ideas in the wastebasket, not publish them, and that idea was pretty bad. Stupid, even.
"You have 435 congressional members who get paid a lot more money than this design firm to come up with dumb ideas."
As if we haven't been criticizing congress-critters here for years.
12% of men are colorblind. I had to point that out to a website designer for an online shopping site our company was developing. He pooh-poohed me until he found out the CEO was colorblind and couldn't make sense of the website. All of the web-dev's colorful codes went back to symbols.
B. Lewis writes:
"Sooner or later all freeway signage will probably be replaced by thin-film OLED or other active matrix displays....."
.... which is a bit scary, B.
The present signs still work when the power goes out. These new-fangled OLED signs won't.
Reliability, man, reliability-- people's lives depend on these things.
Of course, for all I know, by the time these OLED signs might be installed, the signs would all have their very own RTG (radio-isotope thermal generator) power supply, guaranteed to last for 30 years without maintenance.
Pikesville, People's Democratic Republic of Maryland
"Most people don't realize how heavily researched freeway signage standards are."
Yeah, but heavily researched by boring, nerdy engineers. Not by trendy, fashion-aware graphic designers. What engineers learn through careful research doesn't count. What artsy types dream about counts for everything.
"Exactly what CA needs is to spend tens of millions they do not have to change perfectly good road signage."
It's even better than that: After the government has spent huge sums to implement the new, unworkable system, it must later spend huge sums to revert back to the old system. Twice the cronyism makes it twice as wonderful!
"Too police state"?!?
"You can't make any progress without deviating from the norm every once and a while."
Yes, but in small batches. Ground-breaking design on a large scale (especially governmental) does not work well. Even Apple's designs are essentially retro, especially if one looks at the latest iteration of the iPhone.
"How would you design something that is used in everyday life? What would you redesign- and why?"
I miss Raymond Loewy.
The harm may be mitigated, if this is adopted, by the fact that many motorists will be listening to their GPS and not even looking at the signs.
"The social plans are all different, but the social planners are all alike."
Yeah, the people that won't read the old clear signs are going to decipher the new confusing signs, unless their phone still has battery power.