Layout for hiway signs
By James Robert Watson, PhD

Existing layout for hiway signs
When reading exit distances on interstate hiway signs, most signs do the usual transfer-from-print layout of putting exit ramp distances after the exit name.

Photos of signs on Central Expressway in Dallas

For some reason, the sign designer put a huge amount of space between the exit name and the mileage. There is no advantage to setting hiway signs with justified margins (with the exit names aligned on the left and the mileage aligned on the right). We are not reading a block of copy like prose, we are reading only one line of info. We have become accustomed to scanning a sign to focus on just the info we need. The typography, layout, and composition of info on these signs (similar to numerous other new signs) discourage efficient comprehension. The letter spacing, word spacing, and alignment require more time to scan, read, and comprehend the info. And - very important - this is while one is driving, when one's attention should be on the road and other cars.

Legibility, Readability, Comprehension
We read by taking a picture of a group of words - not letter by letter.

Placement of arrows
Medicine Park

NW 50th Street
No need for the NW, those looking for NE won't be on this highway, and if so, they should exit and ask directions. People are looking for 50th. The less info on the sign, the quicker the comprehension.

Proposed layout for hiway signs
In the example below, the exit ramp distances are aligned to the immediate left of the exit names. One sees the number right next to the name - no having to move along a horizontal line. As shown below, this method allows more clarity and easier reading and allows a smaller sign. Most importantly, this format allows the driver to spend less time comprehending the info and more time on the cars and hiway. This will create a safer driving environment.

Conceived: late-1990s
Designed: May, 2003.

Font: large x-height, U&lc, serif, bold
Road signs first appeared in ancient Rome as stone markers with chiseled numbers that showed the distances to various cities in the empire. A few years after Henry Ford sold the first Model T, signs were nailed up on fences, posts, and walls to denote a location or show direction. There was no effort towards uniformity, consistency, efficient readability, or user-convenience. Often, the signs were hand-lettered and in all upper case. In the 1920s, signs became a bit more uniform, with cities and states dictating basic standards of layout and typography. As the popularity and accessibility of long-distance travel increased, so did the need for coherent nationwide standards. The 1935 manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices dictated the size, shape, and placement of road signs. In 1956, the

Brief history
Initial federal planning for a nationwide highway system began in 1921, when a list of roads necessary for national defense was requested. As traffic increased, planners saw a need for such an interconnected national system to supplement the existing, largely non-freeway, United States Numbered Highway system. The publication in 1955 of the General Location of National System of Interstate Highways, informally known as the Yellow Book, mapped out what became the Interstate System.

The Interstate Highway System was authorized by the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956. It had been lobbied for by major US automobile manufacturers and championed by President Dwight Eisenhower, who was influenced by his experiences as a young Army officer crossing the country in the 1919 Army Convoy on the Lincoln Highway, the first road across America. Eisenhower also had gained an appreciation of the German Autobahn network as a necessary component of a national defense system while he was serving as Supreme Commander in Europe during World War II. In addition to facilitating private and commercial transportation, it would provide key ground transport routes for military supplies and troop deployments in case of an emergency or foreign invasion.

HomeEmail Jim Watson • Filename to share: