Is Avenir an appropriate typeface for wayshowing signage?

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Jem's picture
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Is Avenir an appropriate typeface for wayshowing signage?
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A question.
Is Avenir an appropriate typeface for wayshowing signage?

My feeling is due to its open and organic letter shapes, long ascenders and descenders, a more contained and regular typeface would be better suited. If I could recommend a font for signage, it would be the likes of Univers, Frutiger, Meta, even Argo.

Am I wrong?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:AvenirSP.png

Reed Reibstein's picture
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I think that Avenir could be used well, but it's not ideal. The best typefaces for this purpose have big apertures, low contrast, and easily distinguishable letterforms. Frutiger and Meta, as you mentioned, would work well, but Univers is not ideal, owing to its tighter letterforms. This is the thinking behind the new Clearview Highway typeface.

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Thank you Auricfuzz.

When you say 'big apertures' do you mean more open, less enclosed.
Or just a larger negative space?

Peter Bruhn's picture
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I would recommend Arrival

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For me, aperture means the opening between the counter and the outside of the letter, such as the 'a', 'e', 'c', 's'. Unless there's a better word for that. This crucial piece never seems to be on any of the typeface anatomy diagrams.

Notice how Arrival is generally more open thanks to this wide aperture, especially in the 'e' and 's'.


Avenir


Arrival

Besides those you mentioned, another good example is Versa Sans:

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More questions.

So an open aperture (counter) increases legibility by reducing stroke convergence?
I can understand this being an important consideration for illuminated signs, but is it still a factor for standard signage?

Does stroke convergence cause the individual letters to be less distinguishable at a glance, or from a distance?

Michael Yap's picture
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Very informative--thank you!

Stephen Coles's picture
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Also made especially for signage: FF Info and FF Transit

Joe Clark's picture
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Am I the only one tired of Linda Cunningham’s claims that she authored various research papers while refusing to cite any sources? (TRIS returns no hits relating to signage and wayfinding for "Cunningham, L," nor does any other obvious search.)

She’s quite off the mark in her dismissal of my criticism of Tiresias Screenfont. Among other things, it’s a screenfont, not a signage font.


Joe Clark
http://joeclark.org/

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Before they did a massive reno a few years ago, the airport at Minneapolis-St. Paul was actually pretty good too — I haven’t been there lately. If you watch the movie Airport, you get a half-decent sense of the terminal, where they shot the interiors.

Actually, the signage of the movie Airport was created especially for the movie by Paul Mijksenaar from Holland. He was asked to do this because of his work on one of the NY airports. I can't remember which. Anyway, he has a picture in his office standing right next to Steven Spielberg. Quite cool!

As wayfinding goes, I find that I strongly favour what Paul does. One of his showcase projects is Schiphol in Amsterdam and he's done airports all over the world.

He himself has lectured and written a lot about wayfinding and has established several keypoints that a system is based on. Out of the 7 points, the choice of typeface is defined as last. His personal favourite is Frutiger which he himself is turning into a global airport typeface via the numerous projects that he has worked on.

Anyway, just thought that the discussion was missing a key figure. As for the question, Avenir is a great typeface, Avenir Next even more, but if you like the Adrian Frutiger touch then you should go for the Frutiger.

James Montalbano's picture
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Don't forget ClearviewADA which was designed to conform with the typeface guidelines specified in the Americans with Disabilities Act legislation.

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Yes very informative, thank you all.

Another typeface mentioned earlier, Gerard Ungers's Argo. Not specifically designed for wayshowing, though I think would work well when a slightly more expressive font is desired.
(eg. Shopping centre signage vs. Road signs - which ideally should be more neutral)

Linda Cunningham's picture
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Tiresias was developed especially for persons with visual impairments (although not totally blind).

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Interestingly Mr Unger states on his website that Argo:
"is pronounced and contrasty. As a result, it is not used for applications like wayfinding (where neutrality is apparently a virtue), being seen instead mainly in house styles, periodicals and newspapers."

Though I do think he is being slightly sarcastic, as his Capitolium is certainly not 'neutral'
http://www.gerardunger.com/allmytypedesigns/allmytypedesigns16.html

Reed Reibstein's picture
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A small aperture (as in Helvetica) can cause e's and c's to look like o's. Generally, it's more familiar and thus easier to read type with a wide aperture. It all goes toward making each letterform as easily distinguishable from a distance as possible, although ultimately most type should be okay enough for typical signage.

EDIT: Carl, you're right; it's not typical of me to surrender so easily when it comes to type. I was just trying to assure Jem that most of the typefaces mentioned in this thread should work well; there's no single incredibly legible type.

Carl Crossgrove's picture
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"most type should be okay enough for typical signage."

I'm doing a signage system in Swank for an airport! ;)

I think Unger is probably pointing out how conservative most people are in choosing these things. It has to look like other airports, it has to not be too interesting, it has to be "neutral" etc. The typical committee attitude. In spite of this, I think one of the best (meaning clearest, most differentiated, strongest) suggestions so far is Versa Sans. But try to find anyone in the US who would dare use such a wild and unruly face for wayfinding. That's crazy talk! ;)

Here's more about Tiresias.

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IIRC Gerard Unger stated in a lecture, in regards to Capitolium, that it can work as a wayfinding font in Rome because it was to be used, largely, in the tourist areas where all you can do is walk, or at best, ride your Vespa slowly. (Wish I could find my notes.)

Linda Cunningham's picture
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Here’s more about Tiresias.

Yes, I've seen this before, Carl: what concerns me is that it doesn't seem to do anything other than scream a lot without much substantive comment. In fact, I used one of the versions to test my subjects wrt to signage (as opposed to just screen fonts), and the overwhelming majority thought it was a great improvement: they don't cite my work as being pro-Tiresias.

I notice they didn't bother looking very far for citations to support their own position either: that lack of academic rigour on both fronts doesn't encourage them to be taken seriously from either side.

Granted, the existing signage I used was acknowledged as not being sufficient, and the client was looking for something "better" -- they ended up using a mix of Minion and Myriad, which was an improvement, mainly because they didn't want to spend *any* money on something new.

(And gee, that rant reminds me far too much of Design Observer lately....)

Tim Daly's picture
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Edit: repeating Linda’s comment

Tim

Carl Crossgrove's picture
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Tiresias was designed by a vision researcher, not by a type designer. No type designers were involved in declaring it the perfect font to "improve legibility for all". For starters, the way captioning is done requires more than one style; Tiresias doesn't even have an Italic. Here's my favorite quote from John Gill:

“Within the time available, thorough testing to determine the optimal design of the typeface was not possible. However[,] limited testing was done with patients in a low-vision clinic to identify the features of a typeface which they found helpful.”

Accessibility issues are different for people with low or impaired vision (John Gill's main concern), and for people with normal or average vision who are deaf, and who require captioning to access media content. Those issues were ignored in the Tiresias research, such as it was. And we're talking about type for wayfinding, which is yet a different challenge. Tiresias has a few merits for those with low vision, but it's far from ideal for general wayfinding.

Linda Cunningham's picture
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Accessibility issues are different for people with low or impaired vision (John Gill’s main concern), and for people with normal or average vision who are deaf, and who require captioning to access media content. Those issues were ignored in the Tiresias research, such as it was. And we’re talking about type for wayfinding, which is yet a different challenge.

While Dr. Gill and his team may not have done that work, others have -- I'm one of them -- and I know for a fact that my work has been referenced by others.

At the risk of pointing out the obvious, why is our subsequent work being ignored here? And why is there no supporting evidence -- that's real facts in peer-reviewed academic literature, not specious, unsupported, and blanket statements like "it wasn't done by a type designer" -- being presented?

Just curious....

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Where can we read about your subsequent work, Linda? I'm fixating on Tiresias because you brought it up. It's not specious or uninformed to say John Gill isn't a type designer; he isn't.

Linda Cunningham's picture
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Carl, all I'm asking for is some concrete, academic proof about the flaws of Tiresias -- is this the only defence you can offer? Put something up or move on....

(And if you've got access to all the wonderful academic databases, you can look up articles that cite my thesis yourself.)

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For what it's worth… I think that wayfinding type choices are way too conservative. Any font with enough contrast should do the trick, IF it's applied with finesse.

Eg imagine my wonder when I met FF Scala Sans as main font for the signage along Chicago's waterfront. It was just wonderful, because the design was done really well.

BTW: I had a look at Tiresias and I think it's main feature is blandness — as if it has been designed by a committee.

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>"For what it’s worth… I think that wayfinding type choices are way too conservative. Any font with enough contrast should do the trick, IF it’s applied with finesse."

Why choose any old font, when you can choose one that best serves it's function?

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>Tiresias was designed by a vision researcher, not by a type designer.
Even Joe Clark allows that it was designed by a team led by Dr Gill
http://www.laker-sharville.com/lettering.html

Tim

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>choose one that best serves it’s function?

That's an excellent idea. However, roads, captioning on TV screens, and signage in buildings seem to me significantly different.

Clearview is so far as I know the only font demonstrated to be superior to existing US signage. As I remember you can read it 2 seconds sooner at 60 mph, compared to the existing standard.

Wayfinding within a building would seem to me to have much more latitude as far as the issue of legibility. There I would think aesthetics become much more important--enhancing the mood and spirit of the organization or purpose of the building. Outdoor signage for pedestrians would seem to me to be somewhere in between...

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>choose one that best serves it’s function?
>That’s an excellent idea. However, roads, captioning on TV screens, and signage in buildings seem to me significantly different.

Totally agree, that is what I was inferring. Every sign has its own set of functional requirements, the first being; to be seen, read and undersood.

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Agreed William, and sorry to Jem for the derailment, what is the use for the wayfinding system or is it a general query? Another thought
http://www.stormtype.com/typefaces-fonts-shop/families-15-etelka

Tim

Linda Cunningham's picture
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Wayfinding within a building would seem to me to have much more latitude as far as the issue of legibility. There I would think aesthetics become much more important—enhancing the mood and spirit of the organization or purpose of the building.

Well, in the sense that it doesn't have to be read and comprehended while consistently travelling at high speed, you're correct. That being said, architects and designers (type and interior) also need to take into account emergency situations, where it's absolutely necessary that the right information be communicated to all the people as quickly as possible. In these crazy days of litigation, that's becoming very much a front-of-mind issue.

(And I doubt that anyone needs to be told that "design" is suffering in the process.)

It's a very fine line to walk -- what might be an acceptable sign in a well-lit area with few people is likely utterly useless when there's a power outage and a panicked crowd.

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Perhaps implementation of signage is the most overlooked aspect. Typeface is talked about and reviewed because it is involved in the whole process. It is rare that much real anylitical thought goes into the wording and placement of individual signs. An example is the Washington Metro developed in the mid 70s. Yes, the type is your basic Helvetica vinyls sign letters but that is another story. The sadder part is the number of handwritten signs placed by local Metro staff or frustrated passengers in order to rectify the poor implementation of the designed signage. Things magic markered on paper that say "This way to Virginia" or "Airport this way" indicate that after 30 years, the signage still does not do the job.

ChrisL

Linda Cunningham's picture
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I've seen way worse signage than in Metro though, Chris, OTOH just finding one's way anywhere in DC is a huge challenge at best. Heck, for the first four years I lived there, I went nowhere without my ADC pocket atlas of inside the beltway, and heaven help me if I was going elsewhere.

One would think, for all the tourist traffic that The Mall gets, that wayfinding would be a snap, but it's anything but.

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The panhandlers make a fortune on the Mall "giving" tourists directions and maps which they stole from the Smithsonian free box.

ChrisL

Linda Cunningham's picture
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every sign has its own set of functional requirements.

Well, there is an awful lot of overlap. ;-) Signage for public building A will have pretty similar requirements for public building B, no matter their size, location, or function (i.e., large bank in a major urban area vs. country grocery store vs. isolated nature retreat).

It's the implementation that differs....

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Not the most legible typeface from a distance, though still an interesting mix of branding requirements and wayshowing requirements.

Linda Cunningham's picture
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The blue and white is one of the better combinations that you can use, however, and that contributes a lot to the visibility. Compare that with "Next Left," for example.

Which is why blanket statements like "Font A is better than Font B for signage/wayfinding" are pretty useless -- when you mix in size, colour combinations, lighting, and a swack of other factors, lots of fonts can fill the bill.

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Imagine that orange on red at night! It is bad enough during daylight.

ChrisL

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A common mistake made by wayfinding designers is to evaluate their typographic decisions solely on their computer screen or maybe in a letter or tab sized printout. Rarely do they make full scale mock-ups and evaluate them in situ. This leads to many wayfinding legends that are too tightly letterspaced for their intended purpose.

Linda Cunningham's picture
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Absolutely.

Unfortunately, a common mistake made by designers is that anyone who does a sign thinks they are an "expert" at wayfinding -- the overwhelming amount of bad signage and wayfinding choices is ample proof that it's both a science and an art.

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Yes, but my original post was about type choice.

Colors aside, the font shown on the Disney sign (anyone?) is not as legible from a distance as a font with open apertures. Sure the most legible font in the world is not going to be readable if there is not enough contrast between the letters and the background, or if the size is too small, that is a given.

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> Unfortunately, a common mistake made by designers is that anyone who does a sign thinks they are an “expert” at wayfinding — the overwhelming amount of bad signage and wayfinding choices is ample proof that it’s both a science and an art.

There are many excellent signage systems (by designers) as well:

Linda Cunningham's picture
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There are many excellent signage systems (by designers) as well

There are, in fact, very few, and the fact that you've posted the three best is evidence of that.

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Disney – Univers(?) or do they have a similar corporate sans?

Surely the leading (set solid?) is way too tight to be effective, especially compared with the word space, but the arrow is totally useless up in the ear and why bother with a stem that fine.

Tim

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No Linda, the reason I have only posted three is they are examples only,
I don't really have the time to try and convice you otherwise.

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Jem, wanting to concentrate about type (especially here) is admirable, but to emphasize it beyond other elements isn't really useful if you want to discuss "wayfinding" as a broader concept, simply because there is no one best solution.

Every font that keeps getting pushed out as being the "be-all and end-all" for signage has its faults -- blandness is certainly one, but when you consider all the requirements that need to be met, it's not hard to simply devolve to the lowest common denominator.

Sure the most legible font in the world is not going to be readable if there is not enough contrast between the letters and the background, or if the size is too small, that is a given.

You personally might think that colour and size considerations are a given, but expecting every other designer (or client!) to know, implement, or approve those ideas is awfully unrealistic. Unfortunately, stupidity and ignorance aren't crimes.... :-(

Linda Cunningham's picture
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I don’t really have the time to try and convice you otherwise.

Probably because you couldn't anyway. ;-)

Some, maybe even many -- I wouldn't go as far as "most" -- designers can make great standalone signage.

A handful of designers, or architects, or planners, are capable, on their own, to do great wayfinding systems: it takes a broad-based multidisciplinary approach to do it well, a "checking of egos at the door," and a client (individual or company) to have the intelligence, time, and money to want to do what is best for the end-users.

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> Jem, wanting to concentrate about type (especially here) is admirable, but to emphasize it beyond other elements isn’t really useful if you want to discuss “wayfinding” as a broader concept, simply because there is no one best solution.

Linda I didn't emphasize typography above other signage elements, that is your assumption.

As I mentioned my original post was about typeface legibity for signage. Linda this is Typophile.com

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> Probably because you couldn’t anyway. ;-)

Linda, to get you started ;-)

Per Mollerup
Gerard Unger: Type design for Dutch road signs (1997) ANWB + Capitolium
Metadesign/Erik Spiekermann: BVG
Frutiger: Charles de gaulle
Gottschalk +Ash: Calgary International Airport
Roger Pfund: International Red Cross and Red Crescent Museum
Cato design: Sydney International airport
Wolf Olins: Tate / Lisbon Metro / Heathrow Express
Beat Keusch
Ken Miki & Associates
Pentagram
Integral Ruedi-Baur
Josef Muller Brockmann
Otl Aicher
Stockholm design lab
Gary Emery Studio
Vignelli Associates
etc.

Anyone else care to add?

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Sigh... I also have spent a great deal of time on this subject. I started chatting on Typophile when I was working on my thesis a couple of years ago. Linda and I have in common working on wayfinding for a Master's thesis. (Mine was on New York City's signage system.)

Anyway. What Linda speaks of is true...there are too many people, designers included— who think there is one end-all-be-all solution for signage. I can't tell you how many fights I've gotten into about Helvetica for signage (some here and on Typographica).

I also think that Frutiger, Arrival and Clearview are among the best designed for the genre and Clearview as far as I know (as Bill mentioned) is the only one that has been backed up with field testing...(though Keith Tam and Gerry Leonidas might be able to prove me wrong.) :)

The other point thing is, some of us here have done a LOT of research on the subject (Linda, James and to a lesser extent myself) so opinions and viewpoints will differ greatly. Bottom line, what we as designers think looks good has nothing to do with what testing and research can ultimately reveal.

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Anyone else care to add?

Where do I begin? Most of the samples you cited LOOK nice. But if we're talking about true field testing for legibility and wayfinding— they don't all stand up to the test.

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Which test?