Why road sign fonts matter in Hong Kong

July 04, 2016 11:25
The Transport typeface(top left) is ideal for road signs because it eliminates confusion and is easier to read than the Arial and Helvetica fonts. Photos: Internet, Facebook

The font styles of road signs in Hong Kong have stirred some discussion on social media after a young fontophile, or someone who's deeply interested in the types and sizes of printed characters, warned against replacing them.

Gary Yau (邱益彰), 18, said he noticed that the government has been changing the typeface of some of the road signs around the city from "Transport" to "Arial" and "Helvetica".

This is a worrying trend, he said, because it could lead to confusion among motorists or, worse, road accidents.

Transport is a "sans serif" typeface that originated from England in the late '50s and early '60s.

Created by graphic designers and typographers Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert, Transport is specified for British and Hong Kong road signs.

"The clean design is based on the idea that it will allow drivers to quickly skim through the road sign and identify the words even at high speed," said Yau, who established a Facebook page called "Road Research Society" (道路硏究社).

This typeface clearly identifies letters that may otherwise cause confusion to readers, he said.

He gives as an example the small letter "L" and the capital letter "I", which could look the same to readers.

In order to eliminate the confusion, Transport adds a tail to the small letter "L", he said.

Changing the typeface to another style may bring back confusion to motorists, Yau said.

Fonts have become a part of Hong Kong culture that carry history and tradition, and the government should be very careful about changing them, he added.

Translation by Chloe Chow

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