How We Got ClearView

Get your geek on. The public radio program “Studio 360” has a nice segment (mp3, 3.1M) on how the ClearView typeface for highway signs got created. It’s actually a big advancement in safety.


3 responses to “How We Got ClearView”

  1. Ive seen a few ClearView street signs popping up around Portland, with the much needed and neglected 100 block numbering as well. Very cool.

  2. There’s lots of good information on the ClearView font at

    I am a huge fan of ClearView and I wish ODOT would get around to at least adopting it on guide signs. The font may not be perfect but at least it is well researched and thought out. I cannot imagine it could perform worse than the font we’ve been using for 50 years.

  3. James Montalbano gave a talk about Clearview at Typecon 2003. The project was many years old already. My recollection is that Mr Montalbano came in part way through the project when it was clear that the process would be aided by having a professional type designer involved. Here follow my recollections from his talk that weren’t covered in the podcast and aren’t wholly about type.

    One of the other motivators for the project was that 3M had developed retroreflective material that was superior in both cost & reflectivity compared with the older glass-bead technology, but the halation effect Mr Meeker mentioned was much worse.

    Mr. Meeker was probably not exaggerating when he spoke of billions of dollars to scale up all highway signs by 50% (to reflect a suggested 20% increase in design size with Highway Gothic). Interstate signs, for example, are huge to begin with because they’re intended to be read at high speeds, but it’s really about the supporting structures, which have to be able to hold these huge hole-less metal signs up in strong winds. So safety aside there’s a lot of money saved by using Clearview on new signage.

    The only real way to tell how well a design works is to test, test, test. Yes, you can try running models to tell you how it’ll look, but once you actually get people trying to read the sign while going past at highway speed, you discover problems you hadn’t known about, despite your having done scaled-sign tests in a hallway. This is an excellent reason to adopt FHWA design standards instead of coming up with your own; you can’t really trust your intuition unless you’re a designer & even then you’ll get something wrong. It’s not hard to find people both in & outside the type industry who say that Clearview is actually less legible than Highway Gothic, but the tests don’t bear that out.

    By the way, the Clearview pages show an intersection that should look familiar to someone living in East Multnomah County before 10 years ago or so:

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