Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Universal, Secret Language of Airports

Fruitiger in use at Charles deGaulle Airport
It doesn't matter whether you're in Buffalo or Berlin, the signage used in the world's airports is reassuringly familiar for confused or weary travelers.  And one of the reasons is that the typefaces you see are amazingly standardized. Without consciously setting uniform typographic standards, the information you read at the world's airports will have a 75% chance of being presented in one of the three universal travel information fonts: Helvetica, Frutiger or Clearview.

The reasons for these three are as logical as their no-nonsense, sans-serif appearance.  Helvetica is the default type for international business, logos and modern signs.  Fruitiger is a simplified, readable font that proved a success after its original mission of improving information signage at France's Charles deGaulle Airport.  And Clearview was specifically designed for long-distance recognition and readability on highway signs. Simple, similar and yet memorable, the combination of these three typefaces immediately bring to mind long-distance travel and its signs.

Hunter Communications Original News Source:

Link to article:

Excerpt: "It makes perfect sense that airports would employ sans serif typefaces, which are easier to read at a distance (and bad for small, on-screen type). But there are also some pretty sweet little details found within these typefaces which make them winners for airport signage. Here are the three you're most likely to find at an airport near you.


The granddaddy of wayfinding signage is the half-century-old Helvetica, which was developed in Switzerland. It has a supposedly 'neutral' vibe which feels vaguely familiar and comfortingly classic, yet it doesn't look dated. For readability it is especially embraced due to the distinctive shapes of its letters—including the lowercase 'a' which will never be mistaken for an 'o,' for example.


Frutiger was actually designed for an airport—Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris—by Adrian Fruitger in 1975. Fruitger had developed the beloved Univers, another good sans serif font, but wanted to create something custom that would reflect the contemporary architecture of the airport. The typeface is known for having prominent ascenders and descenders—the parts of the letterforms that stick up and down like 'l' and 'p'—and wide apertures, or partially-enclosed openings inside letters like 'e' and 'n.'


Specifically developed for the American interstate highway system in the early 2000s, Clearview was almost data-driven based on legibility at a distance. The biggest changes to make the type more readable came in the expansion of counter spaces, the enclosed spaces in letters like 'a' and 'g,' and higher relative heights from lowercase to uppercase, like the difference between 'x' and 'X'."

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