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Type Design Helps Parisians Catch Right Bus
Typography projects often includes challenges, but type designer Jean François Porchez had a special set of constraints when he was assigned to revamp the fonts used for Parisian transit signs and bus displays. The limited resolution of LED displays and the difficulties of passengers reading a fast-moving display on a passing bus made his work extra challenging, and the rewards extra practical to everyday lives.
Excerpt: "If you've used public transport in Paris in the last 15 years, you'll be familiar with type designer Jean François Porchez's work. The RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisien) is one of the biggest and most efficient urban transport networks in the world, with 10 million passengers using the Métro alone every day. In 1996, it briefed Porchez to update Adrian Frutiger's iconic Univers-based font created for the Paris Métro which was inaugurated in the 70s.
In response, Porchez created Parisine, a customised font family which pays homage to Frutiger's creation, but with a slightly more feminine feel that's as sexy and elegant as the city itself. Parisine was extended in 1999 to a full family of 12 fonts for all wayfinding and directional sign systems and maps. Parisine Office was added in 2005 for advertising and internal and external communication. In 2006, Parisine Pro was launched, an updated version which includes small caps and is available to all users.
This month sees the introduction of Porchez's latest work for the RATP – a version of the font to be used on LED panel signage for Paris's buses.
The RATP wanted to optimise visibility on their bus fleet and to make it visually coherent with the Parisine font family, a complex brief with several challenges.
Firstly, the LED displays used can only handle a one-size-fits-all font with no measured spacing between letters. The maximum letterheight on the buses' front panels is just 18 centimetres. Secondly, the low resolution of LED lighting combined with the roll-sign and flip displays previously in use caused great problems for passengers with impaired vision. In addition, Parisian bus termini often have excessively long names such as Mairie d'Aubervilliers or École Vétérinaire de Maisons-Alfort. Finally, according to Porchez, there was no way to produce a working prototype; the design would have to go straight from printout mock-ups to implementation."