Joshua Yaffa, writing for the NYT Magazine, examines the ongoing transition from Highway Gothic to Clearview on the nation’s highway signs.
Looking at a sign in Clearview after reading one in Highway Gothic is like putting on a new pair of reading glasses: there’s a sudden lightness, a noticeable crispness to the letters,” he writes. Then he provides some background on why fonts matter as much as they do:
Less than a generation ago, fonts were for the specialist, an esoteric pursuit, what Stanley Morison, the English typographer who helped create Times New Roman in the 1930s, called “a minor technicality of civilized life.” Now, as the idea of branding has claimed a central role in American life, so, too, has the importance and understanding of type. Fonts are image, and image is modern America.
To provide a corporate context for Clearview’s popularity, AT&T had been using Gill Sans, a leaden, staid typeface from the 1920s, but research showed that consumers identified AT&T with attributes like “monolithic” and “bureaucratic” — an image problem it hoped to fix, in part, with a new typeface. A year after AT&T began using Clearview for all its advertising and corporate communications, Interbrand conducted a follow-up survey, asking consumers, “Do you consider AT&T to be a technologically savvy brand?” Positive responses had doubled.