Jonathan Dobres Leads Award-Winning Research on Highway Sign Fonts

Jonathan Dobres Leads Award-Winning Research on Highway Sign Fonts

Roadway infrastructure should be designed with all drivers in mind, including the increasing number of older drivers. This can include the pavement, road markings, signage materials, and yes, even the fonts used on those signs. In 2004, the Federal Highway Administration granted interim approval to use a new font called Clearview on highway signs, meant as an improvement on the 70 year-old High Standard Alphabet (or "Highway Gothic"). Clearview was designed to maximize legibility, especially for older drivers, and although most research showed Clearview to have superior legibility compared to Highway Gothic, the Federal Highway Administration decided in 2016 to discontinue its approval for use, sparking a heated debate in the design community.

AgeLab research scientists led by Jonathan Dobres conducted a comparison of the Clearview and Highway Gothic fonts. While all research on these fonts to date had used similar methods, taking people out on a test track to view signs while driving, the AgeLab's methods drew on its existing body of research on legibility to produce a laboratory-based assessment. This allowed for a more direct comparison of how easy or hard it was to read the two fonts in brief glances. The results showed that Clearview is easier to read than Highway Gothic, regardless of the colors used to display the text, suggesting that Clearview is indeed built for legibility.

This research makes an important contribution to the ongoing discussion regarding Clearview's place on US roadways. The study was presented at the Transportation Review Board 96th Annual Meeting, and earned the Traffic Control Devices Committee Best Paper Award. The study was also accepted for early publication in the Transportation Research Record.


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