Ralf Herrmann Releases Wayfinding Sans Pro
Highway Signage’s Past
I have always felt distaste for the lettering on American federal highway signage. The Interstate typeface, as it is known, employs stems and curves that are are cut off for seemingly no apparent reason, claustrophobic counters, and piercing north-bound spires. While many good designers — the federal government simply doesn’t count for this — use it well in a display weight or headers, I was never terribly impressed with the truncated lowercase g or the way the intro stroke on the lowercase a felt too close to the bowl.
Tobias Frere-Jones and Cyrus Highsmith expanded the original 1993 offering into a 40-weight superfamily and it has done quite well, even consistently making it onto the current short list of whatever great designer is writing the list. I, though, prefer the subdued answer given by the state of Washington: FF Meta. FF Meta was designed by Erik Spiekermann in 1985 and revised in 1990. It has been called the Helvetica of the ’90s due to its ubiquity but not its personality. Because it actually has one. Its glyph shapes varied enough from each other to be easily recognizable — the lowercase l bends at the baseline, for example — but it still didn’t seem to completely fit the needs of road signage.
Enter Ralf Herrmann: Highway Signage’s Future
Six years of research and development, months of digital testing, and an empirical study at the University of Applied Sciences in Berlin have led to the release of Wayfinding Sans Pro.
To increase the possible viewing distance, the skeleton of the letters of a signage typeface must be generic and familiar but also unmistakable. Wayfinding Sans Pro was designed this way from the ground up.
It has the feel of being made by a human rather than the industrial machinations of DIN 1451. Its forms are simultaneously inviting and informing, unlike American signage. Its glyphs are distinct — a word you can’t use enough concerning typefaces — compared with Dutch signage. Its forms are also clear, unlike French signage. In fact, Wayfinding Sans excels in precisely the ways French, Dutch, American, and German signage fails. Herrmann’s creation was focused on solving real-world problems, so it only makes sense to look at those who have gone before in order to fashion a better solution.
I really appreciate the amount of work that’s gone into this family. A significant problem has been solved while retaining the beauty and mild character of the typeface. It may even be possible for this family to be used in heads-up displays for driving. Herrmann says all signage is a good medium for this typeface, but where else might it be used? Movie subtitles or closed captioning?
The typeface comes in two weights (regular and bold) and three widths (condensed, normal, and extended). The extended widths are recommended for signage use, whereas, with print, the normal/regular weight is the default. Wayfinding Sans pro is loaded with OpenType features, figures, compensating positive and negative weights for use on one sign, and an iteration for arrow usage that actually makes sense. On the drawing board now is a set of hundreds of pictograms to guide the traveler. And as if the research and the results weren’t enough, it’s available for half price until 1 May 2012.
Herrmann’s type family is not made for long stretches of casual reading. It’s a beautiful text guide that won’t make you slow down as you get closer to it. But you just might want to.
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Download the Wayfinding Sans Pro PDF
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