Manage This

The Extensis Community Blog

The story of fonts and typefaces in street signage is one you could start as long ago as ancient Rome. The earliest road signs were milestones, stone columns that marked the miles throughout the Roman Empire, counting the distance to Rome. Later, in the Middle Ages, multidirectional signs at intersections evolved, to point the direction to multiple cities and towns. And if you don’t already know the story of Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert’s rigorous transformation of the UK’s chaotic road signs from 1957-1967—generally known by type design nerds around the world as “one of the most ambitious information design projects ever undertaken in Britain”—then you almost certainly know the font they used to do it (Transport—or New Transport if you’re working in digital).

But the story we’d like to tell here begins eighty-three years ago today, in New York City. On July 27, 1943, the poet and humorist Gelett Burgess wrote a letter to Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia of New York City with a complaint—in verse, of course—about the fonts used on the hand-painted street signs around the city.

Why is it he who paints the signs
On New York’s numbered streets combines
Such Threes and Sixes, Eights and Nines?

For, at a distance, when it’s late,
It’s hard to differentiate
Between a Six, Nine, Three and Eight.

They look so much alike they mix
Us up: we feel like lunatics
Who cannot tell a Nine from Six.

Burgess concludes on a pleading note:

Oh, Mr. Mayor, be kind! Be wise
Our street signs please do modernize
With numbers we can recognize!


LaGuardia didn’t get to be one of the greatest mayors in American history by ignoring this sort of thing. Not to be outdone, he wrote back with a poem of his own, thanking Burgess for his letter. It’s “a real delight/ When query comes, like yours, in phrase/ Polite,” his poem begins. He goes on to address the problem at hand. “Best not, piecemeal, change signs of tin,” he thinks.

A whole new set is what we want,
           And meantime, praying on our knees
Our genial government to grant

“A post-war project!” we will cry
           And when a fleet of signs appears
The City will look younger by
           Eleven years.


With his last line—“The City will look younger by/ Eleven years”—LaGuardia was referencing a book by Burgess, Look Eleven Years Younger (1937)—but if his reference was cheeky, his words were not untrue. The New York City of 1943 (which you can visit via the wonderful Kodachrome photographs of Charles Cushman, in the archives of Indiana University seemed a much older place than the New York City that did, eventually, begin to replace its signage.

In 1964—thirteen years after Gelett Burgess died—NYC began replacing all its street signage with large, easier-to-read, vinyl signs. For about twenty years, these signs were color-coded depending on what borough they were in. Street signs in Manhattan and Staten Island were yellow with black lettering; signs in the Bronx were blue with white lettering; Queens was blue on white; and Brooklyn was black and white. The type was an all-caps, sans serif situation, with superscript for the “ST”s, “AVE”s, and “RD”s in the top right corners.

asdfasf Unknown-1

As LaGuardia implied, though, the story of changing street signs in America is largely a story of state versus Federal government. It wasn’t long before the Feds passed a regulation ruling that all street signage be green, with reflective white lettering. “The color-coded regime came to a gradual end as the signs were grandfathered out.”


Joshua Yaffa, who chronicled the history of road signage wrote in the New York Times Magazine in 2007: “Until the 1920s, when the development of die-cut technology allowed for the shaping and cutting of thin metal alloy, signs were often idiosyncratic, with layouts and typefaces varying by city and region. But as the popularity and accessibility of long-distance road travel increased, so, too, did the need for coherent nationwide standards. Federally approved fonts first appeared in the 1935 edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, the bible of federal road and highway standards that dictates the size, shape and placement of road signs. …In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced his goal of an expanded Interstate System, and highway engineers worked quickly to fashion a rough alphabet by rounding off the square edges of the block lettering created during die-cut sign making.” The result? Highway Gothic.

In 2004, citing a study that showed it was more difficult to read signs in all caps, the Federal government issued an order for a new font to be used on highway signs, and for all uppercase traffic signs to be changed to sentence case. In 2010, it extended that order to all US cities. “Those extra milliseconds spent staring away from the road have been shown to increase the likelihood of accidents, particularly among older drivers,” read one article. The government commissioned Meeker and Associates to design a new font for the redesign: Clearview. Around 30 states adopted the font—and other countries followed the US’ lead, including Indonesia, Canada, and elsewhere.


Highway Gothic versus Clearview

On a municipal level, the shift to Clearview was met with a mixed reception. In Toronto, which started rolling out new “blue and white extruded aluminum local and arterial street signs” in Clearview in 2007, the loss of that city’s former “iconic acorn-style street sign” was much lamented. Meanwhile, in New York City—arguably the grumpiest city in the world—the total cost of replacing all street signs was $110 per sign, or $27.6 million overall. As one might expect, New Yorkers were not pleased with the change.


This year, however, the Federal Highway Administration changed course, and reverted from Clearview to Highway Gothic. Just twelve years after its much-celebrated rollout, the short, sweet reign of Clearview was over—taking the designers at Meeker and Associates by unfortunate surprise. It’s not quite clear what this will mean for the fonts of New York City in the next two years. Still, many signs have already been changed, and the increase in legibility is undeniable. 73 years to the day after Mr. Burgess wrote his poem to Mayor LaGuardia, we’d like to think he, at least, would be pleased by the results.

Comments »

If you follow typography neprofilews, you’re probably aware of the hubbub surrounding the designer Fiona O’Leary and her new gadget, Spector. A
hand-held device that recognizes text and colors in the real world, and converts them in real-time to the exact typeface, size, leading, kerning, and Pantone code, Spector has been covered in every design publication from DesignBoom to Wired to The Verge, and elsewhere. Fiona graciously took the time to answer a few questions for us.


Let’s start with your telling us a bit about your background. How did you first become interested in design and invention?

I graduated with a Bachelors in Visual Communication from the National College of Art and Design in Dublin in 2010. After that, I worked as a graphic designer at a studio called Creative Inc, in Dublin, for three years. While I was there I gained a lot of valuable experience about printing and typography. However, I wanted more of a challenge, and to do more interactive projects, so I applied to Fabrica, a communication research unit in Italy run by United Colors of Benetton.

Throughout my one-year residency at Fabrica I got to experiment with a lot of different types of projects, from UI design to urban design to product design.

I got really interested in designing physical objects, and decided to apply to the Royal College of Art in London. They had a course there called Design Products, and I really liked the sound of that. It isn’t your typical product design course; it’s split into 5 platforms, which are groups of 8 to 10 students, and lead by two tutors. Each platform has a different theme, and challenges a different facade of product design.

I joined Platform 24, which is called Object Mediated Interactions, and is run by Durrell Bishop and Oscar Lhermitte. We focused on the field of product design that connects new, digital developments with the physical environment. It was all about designing solutions that take the systems behind products—as well as their real properties—into account.


What was the inspiration for Spector? Is there a story behind it?

I came up with this idea out of frustration. When you’re designing for print, it never looks the same on screen as it does in the finalized print.

You have no idea of the scale of the page, and the typography and colors often visualize differently too. I thought, if you are going to design for print on a screen, why not start with print material? And why not make it interactive?

As designers, we always collect lots of nice samples of inspiration. I wanted to utilize these samples by making them interactive.



Tell us a bit more about Spector. How have you felt about all the publicity that it has been getting? Did you anticipate that it would go this viral?

I see this tool as a way of understanding typography, and making typesetting more transparent, by communicating invisible factors such as size, kerning, and leading. This helps educate the user about typography.

I also see it as a way of taking the guessing game out of typesetting, so that when it comes to printing your book or page from Adobe InDesign, since you took it from a piece of printed material, you already know what it’s going to look like. I see it as useful tool for students who are just starting out as a graphic designer.

That said, I didn’t anticipate it going viral at all! However, I can understand how people identify with it, as it addresses a very common problem. It is nice to see how passionate people are about it.


Why did you choose to create a physical gadget, rather than software?

I chose to create a physical gadget for two reasons. The first is more technical: it would be difficult to write software for every camera that exists on every iPhone and Android phone. It made more sense to write software for a specific camera, which we had control over.

Also, the camera needed to be at a specific focal length, to make sure that the samples that were sent over to the database would be consistent.

The second reason is I wanted to design a tool for graphic designers that would be physical. I did a lot of research into the physical tools graphic designers had before computers, and they were really beautiful. I wanted my device to hark back to those tools.

I wanted it to be reminiscent of them, interactive, and useful. Thats why the visual language of Spector recalls a loupe.


How does Spector work? (Go ahead and get technical, if you like.)


Spector’s software works as an InDesign plugin, with a live feed of the camera. The hardware connects to the computer via bluetooth.

The user presses the button on the device, takes a picture of the font with a macro camera, and matches this picture to a font database. Spector can only detect one typeface at a time (that helps with typeface recognition), however it can detect several colors at the same time.

High resolution and a sharp image are pretty essential, too. A sample has to be right-side up, as well. But beyond quality-related elements, probably the most important thing is that you have a varied sample of characters. In fact, there is a preference for certain characters: the letter O is usually not very distinctive, but a g or G can pinpoint a font from a single glyph.

Having more distinctive characters lowers the chance of Spector detecting the wrong font. In terms of memory, it can store up to 10 fonts at the same time, and 10 colors, or 20 fonts and 0 colors. Basically, it can store 20 snap pictures.

Spector uses machine learning, and it is all based on algorithms. For kerning and leading, it needs to be as horizontal as possible. Subsequently, detecting a typeface or font by the shape of the letters is the straightforward part.

Once there’s a match for a font, Spector’s metrics calculate the leading by comparing the baselines, if there are multiple lines in the sample. The kerning can be calculated by the taking the leftmost edge of the first recognized character, and the rightmost edge of the last recognized character, in a series of recognized characters.

This length is compared to the metrics to give a relative kerning size.

At the moment, Spector can only detect up to 48pt fonts, but this is something were working on as we continue to play around with different types of lenses and focal points.

Ultimately, I see it as a tool for typesetting—using books and posters and signage as your source material—rather than big billboards, as they would most likely use headline or display fonts, rather than body copy fonts.


Where do you see yourself—and Spector—going in the future? Will you be bringing this product to market?


I do hope to bring Spector to market, and am currently looking for streams of funding. There is a lot to do, but I think with the right resources this product could be kick-started in the next year or two. I envision a special type specimen book being sold with the tool, too.

As for myself, I want to keep designing products like this, products that help us understand software. I have another product—which was my other graduation project—called MIMO, which challenges our daily interaction with the process of copy-and-paste. I would like to bring this market, too, eventually.

For now, the design process is far from over. The real work is only beginning.

Spector had been my graduation project up until now, just me working on it, with some technical help from an interaction designer, David van Gemeran, so I was really making decisions simply based on what I like. Now that I am working on bringing it to market, the real roadblocks will begin.

Comments »

Want to learn how to use our flagship font manager Suitcase Fusion 7? We’ve made it easy by creating a large number of videos that go through all of the basics of setup and use.

This video covers adding fonts to Suitcase Fusion. Get started with your font journey here.

Want to try it yourself? It’s easy to do.

Download a free 30-day trial of Suitcase Fusion 7.

Tags: , , ,

Comments »

Comparing Rs between Helvetica and Arial

One of the most pronounced differences between Helvetica (shown in black) and Arial (shown in aqua) can be found in the cap R. You can also see Arial’s slightly higher waistline in this example.

Helvetica and Arial are two of the most commonly used typefaces. They are frequently used for print, the web, and other digital uses.

Most designers know they are not the same design (and might even express a snobbish preference for one), but if asked, are hard pressed to be able to tell you what those differences are.

So here’s the inside story!


A Bit of History

Helvetica, one the most widely-used typefaces for decades, has a long history. It was originally designed in 1957 by Swiss typeface designer Max Miedinger for the Haas Type. It was commissioned by Eduard Hoffmann, managing director of the Swiss foundry, to compete with other popular sans serifs of the day, particularly Akzidenz Grotesk.

This new design was therefore named Neue Haas Grotesk (translation: New Haas Sans Serif) to reflect this lineage.

The name was changed to Helvetica (an adaptation of Helvetia, the Latin name for Switzerland) by the Stempel type foundry, the parent company of Haas, to reflect its Swiss heritage. Its popularity soared in the mid 1980s when it was included in the core fonts for the Apple operating system and laser printers, alongside Times Roman and Courier.

Over the years, the Helvetica family was expanded to encompass an extensive range of weights and width variants.

Arial, on the other hand, is often viewed as the “poor man’s” Helvetica by designers. Although designed to compete with (and therefore be similar to) Helvetica, it has its own individual history and backstory. Arial was designed in 1982 by Robin Nicholas and Patricia Saunders for Monotype.

Although created for use in an early IBM laser printer, its roots lie in the 1926 Monotype Grotesque design. In 1992, Microsoft licensed Arial to be included in the suite of fonts supplied with the Windows operating system.

The family has since been expanded beyond the original weights, and now includes 28 versions: six weights plus companion italics for the regular width, four condensed, four narrow, four rounded, and four monospaced versions.


Design Differences

Many of the differences between these two popular typefaces are related to their intended usage:  Helvetica was designed for print, while Arial was designed for laser printers and then adapted for use on computers, both being lower resolution environments than print.

Helvetica has sharper, crisper, and more stylish details, such as the leg of the cap R, more curvy diagonal spine on the numeral 2, and horizontal or vertical end strokes on many characters.

In addition, Helvetica has a slightly higher waistline, and an overall less rounded appearance than Arial. Arial, on the other hand, has a less elegant, blander appearance, most likely so that it prints well on the laser printer it was intended for. These traits also make it better for other lower resolution environments, including the web and other pre-retina and other hi res display digital environments.

Arial has softer curves and fuller counters, as well as a characteristic diagonal terminal on the t, and a curved tail on the cap Q.

Other differences between the two typefaces are noted in the next three illustrations.

Other differences between the two typefaces are noted in the next three illustrations.



The differences between Helvetica and Arial are most noticeable in larger sizes, while they look fairly similar in smaller text. Excerpt from 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, By Charles C. Mann.

The differences between Helvetica and Arial are most noticeable in larger sizes, while they look fairly similar in smaller text. Excerpt from 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, By Charles C. Mann.


Helvetica and Neue Helvetica

In 1993, D. Stempel AG, Linotype’s daughter company, released a reworking of the original Helvetica entitled Neue (New) Helvetica.

This freshened up version includes the refinement of some characters, strengthened punctuation, cap and x-height adjustments, widened cross bars, and a new numerical system to identify the weights, similar to Univers and Frutiger. It also has additional weights: eight upright versions plus italics for the regular width, obliques for the expanded versions, as well as nine weights plus obliques for the condensed.

There is also a bold outline version for the regular width. The resulting total is 51 weights in all – many more than in the original family.


The differences between Helvetica and Neue Helvetica are subtle yet significant: wider rounded shapes, a wider arm on the r, extended crossbars, and larger punctuation.

The differences between Helvetica and Neue Helvetica are subtle yet significant: wider rounded shapes, a wider arm on the r, extended crossbars, and larger punctuation.


Two of the most popular new weights are Ultra Light and Thin, which are intended for display usage.

For this reason, the spacing of these weights is a lot tighter than the heavier weights. The problem arises when they are used for small text (which has become a common usage), where their tight spacing makes the text look very cramped and hard to read. The solution is to open the tracking as needed to give the text more “breathing” room.

This will expand the usable size range of this still extremely popular typeface.

One of the biggest problems with Helvetica Neue Ultra Light and Thin (heading and text, respectively) is their use for text and other smaller settings, due to their very tight spacing (upper). This can be improved by opening the tracking as needed: +50 for the heading set in Ultra Light, and +40 for the text set in Thin (lower) in this example.

One of the biggest problems with Helvetica Neue Ultra Light and Thin (heading and text, respectively) is their use for text and other smaller settings, due to their very tight spacing (upper). This can be improved by opening the tracking as needed: +50 for the heading set in Ultra Light, and +40 for the text set in Thin (lower) in this example.

Comments »

UTS-Fly-FontRiskAssessment-CheckList-EN-ThumbFonts are seemingly innocuous pieces of software, but when treated improperly can cause big problems for you, your team, and even your entire company.

The problems that fonts can cause come in many forms, from the mere embarrassment of a client, all the way up to multi-million dollar lawsuits.

These are a few ways font problems can be created:

  • Casual font copying & trading
  • Misuse of open source fonts
  • Under-licensing of fonts
  • Distribution of fonts to outside groups
  • No formal internal training procedures
  • Misunderstanding of copyright laws
  • Inadvertent or overt font piracy

Font compliance issues like these have caught many teams off guard, and it hasn’t been limited to one type of organization. Presidential candidates, toy manufacturers, broadcasters, publishers and creative agencies have all had serious issues with font compliance.

To help you assess your risk, we’ve put together a free tool – Font Compliance & Risk Assessment Tool.

Comments »

dc jpeg

If you don’t know David Carson, you should. One of the world’s most distinctive—and most imitated—type designers, his boundary-busting typography broke the mold for how type on a page could look, and ushered in a new vision of type and page design. Complex listed him among the 30 most influential designers of all time, and Apple selected him as one of their 30 most innovative users, calling him “a pioneer with a profound impact.” David’s first book is The End of Print, and his latest, a collection of his recent work, is Trek. We are over the moon that David joined us for our mini-interview series, 4 Questions 4.

1. How did you get into the business of type design?


When I was designing the music magazine Ray Gun, people were sending me fonts from all over the world, hoping they would get used in the magazine. The internet was still in its early stages, and font designers needed exposure for their work. Back then they looked primarily to print for that. Seeing all these fonts I was being sent sparked my interest in font design. I started a font company called Garage Fonts. I thought that was a good name at the time, and better-sounding than “homemade” or “grunge”! We sold many of the fonts that I used in Ray Gun through Garage Fonts.

2. What fonts or type design trends are you loving these days?

I’m enjoying seeing a continued and renewed interest in those done by hand. Early on, I was against trying to do fonts that looked hand-done on the computer, but font design has come a long way since then. I enjoy new twists on old, traditional fonts, and I think it’s important that fonts have a unique feel or personality. That is often best achieved in subtle ways.

3. Which of your designs are you most proud of, and why?

I’m proud I designed my poster for the movie Helvetica in Franklin Gothic! (Laughs)


I’d say my early magazine work with Beach Culture Magazine, along with work from the band Nine Inch Nails is what I’m most proud of. My work for Microsoft and Armani were also unique challenges. Both involved finessing the traditional fonts they’d used for all their branding materials. Those I’m pretty proud of.


But I hope the work I’m most proud of is still to come. I’m currently designing the look and feel, and fonts, for the world’s first PAV (personal air vehicle, i.e. flying car). That is a completely different audience and product, so its a great challenge. Hopefully this fall you’ll see the results.

4. Describe your dream project.

I think I’ve done a few of them already. I’ve been given an unusual amount of freedom in my career, due in part to my early success with the magazine work. Any project that gives me a lot of creative freedom, and a new topic or audience, is great. So is good visibility. And if the design can be for something that actually helps make the world a bit better or humane, then that’s extra special.

Comments »

Font auto-activation plug-ins can make your design work much more efficient.

Learn how to implement and use the new plug-ins for Adobe Creative Cloud and QuarkXPress in Suitcase Fusion 7.

Ready to check out a font manager for yourself?

Download a fully-functional, free 30-day trial of Suitcase Fusion 7.

Tags: , ,

Comments »


Font Founders: John Baskerville The next in our Font Founders series is John Baskerville (1706–1775), the English businessman, printer, & type designer, who said: “So much depends on appearing perfect.”

Comments »

7947d7339601a6f2b0cb3c5c91d7e526Planning in advance pays off, and it’s no different when implementing a font management strategy. Join me for this Designcast where I will share best practices to help you build out a strategy that will help you:

  • Efficiently distribute your font collection
  • Keep everyone’s fonts in sync
  • Understand your team’s font usage
  • Maintain a legally licensed font collection
  • And more


July 21, 2016

10:00 AM – 11:00 AM Pacfic
1:00 PM – 2:00 PM Eastern


I will share pro tips and key questions to get you well underway in developing your strategy, such as:

  • Who is currently buying and using fonts in your organization?
  • How many team members need access to your fonts?
  • Do you have any new production workflows that need to be supported?
  • How can a font server help ensure software compliance?

Join me for the webcast


Comments »

Whether you’re new to font management, or an old pro, it’s easy to get started using Suitcase Fusion.

We’ve made it even easier by recording videos that cover the few steps that you’ll need to take.

Ready to give it a shot yourself?

Download a free 30-day trial of Suitcase Fusion 7.

Tags: , ,

Comments »

1 2 3 159 160