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BAA signage typeface

Can anyone tell me more about the typeface used for signage at BAA airports.

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ChrisL

It's three years old now, but someone just mentioned this thread to me and I thought I'd take a look... can't let the smoke and mirrors jibe pass without comment!

I'm also thinking about this issue just now, as I'm speaking about it at our University of Reading Typeface Design short course tomorrow.

The issue terminaldesign refers to is known as ecological validity - all testers have to consider how the real world environment affects users. It obviously does affect things hugely, but it isn't practical to test in the way td suggests. We considered this carefully for the BAA research. To install a sign at a busy airport is expensive - it requires specialist teams of workers, scaffolding, coordination from different departments, risk assessments, etc. That's for each version of each sign. Signs also come in many shapes and sizes, some of them backlit, some not - should we test them all? To what purpose? And they have to compete with commercial signing, and be usable by people from different cultures, in a stressful situation. There's no possibility of testing signs like these in the real environment with real materials and real people.

In any case, this was a strictly limited study of typeface choice. We saw no particular reason why each typeface would not be equally affected by the move from simulation to the real world, so the comparison was fair. And we argued that any halation effect from the screen display would in some respects be equivalent to the backlit signs that are the majority. We controlled ambient lighting using a light meter to match the recommended lighting levels that BAA aim at for airport environments.

We used 25 participants who viewed each typeface using a range of different common English words, in a number of colourways, in random order. This amounted to hundreds of viewings. The number of participants needs to be adequate to give statistically significant results - after a certain number, the law of diminishing returns kicks in and you are wasting time and money.

The technique of slowly enlarging the font is in a long-standing tradition in which type is presented in threshold conditions using, for example, tachistocopes (they flash images up very quickly), moving images on rails, or even signs mounted on trucks driving towards the viewer.

A notable feature of our methodology is the use of an 'Aunt Sally' typeface choice (one that is set up simply in order to be knocked down), in order to provide a sense of scale in the differences we find. I am sceptical about research which finds statistical differences that in real life are very small. In this case we used Garamond Italic as our Aunt Sally - a typeface most would expect to be relatively illegible for airport signing. Our thinking was that if our methodology could not distinguish between Garamond Italic and, say, Frutiger Bold, then it was just not working. And it would tell us where BAA Sign (the version of BAA Bembo we were testing) sits on a scale between Garamond Italic and Frutiger.

We also triangulated our research through a wider study of personal preferences and style associations of 400 people, split between the UK (familiar with BAA airports) and Germany (less so). And we surveyed a panel of expert sign designers, researchers and type designers.

Some designers may make decisions based on screen environments. However, our work was informed by our experience of researching and designing wayfinding systems for numerous hospitals, museums, and other public buildings, and additional research experience with bus, rail and air travellers.

The 'growing word' technique we used here, by the way, is only valid in my view for applications that, like signs, consist of single words or short phrases. Type for continuous reading is a different matter entirely.

The BAA research can be found in Waller R, (2007) 'Comparing typefaces for airport signs', Information Design Journal, vol 15: 1-15.

http://www.typography.net/commissions/britishairports.htm
"The BAA Sans is used for airport names whilst BAA Serif is used for all the other business interests of BAA."

The signage typeface used at the moment is called BAA Bembo, and was drawn by Shelley Winter. I believe Freda Sack worked on it too. I Recently went to a Sign Design Society talk by Rob Waller, who has done some legibilty testing on it. His testing showed it to be surprisingly legible compared to Frutiger and Vialog.

Are thereany samples on the internet or St Bride?

Not to my knowledge. What are you interested in particularly?

Can you describe the testing model? What was the size of the test population?

Broadly, each typeface was shown on a screen at a very small, illegible size, using a common English word. The word was then made progressively bigger, quite quickly. The sitter had to press a button when the type became legible. The sitter was asked what the word was, to make sure they had read it correctly. The different reaction times were then compiled and compared against one another. Using this method, Frutiger bold came out as most legible, followed by BAA Bembo, followed by Vialog. I can't remember how many people were tested.

So is the screen the environment that the typeface will exist in, and have to be legible in? Or is it going to be used on physical signs? If it is the latter, I'm afraid that the "Legibility Study" you refer to is meaningless.

Unfortunately this is quite common, designers make decisions about how a typeface is suppose to function based on a screen environment. The only way to test legibilty of signage typefaces is to but them in the real environment, made out of the real materials that they will eventually have to perform on. Anything less is smoke and mirrors.