By Sebastien Hayez. Published August 15, 2023

Fonts for Signage

Signage design is a special branch of graphic design, at the crossroads of typography and information design.

And yet, there are many cases that fall into the category of signage: placing an emergency exit sign, designing signage inside an airport or a railway station is a meticulous and undemonstrative task. On the other hand, creating a signage design for a cultural exhibition or a hospital can involve many more aspects (locations, dimensions, supports, design and printing processes).

Defining your typographic palette

The choice of typeface for signage is similar to that for a poster: the primary aim is to be seen from a distance and catch the eye. However, when a poster takes the liberty of being daring, signage must stay in its place: the aim is to find information, not to be convinced by a novelty. Legibility is therefore at the heart of the typographic choice, while the visual impact is likely to depend on the panel color and its position in the space.

Museum Het Rembrandthuis (The Rembrandt House Museum) in Amsterdam is not just Rembrandt’s former home and workshop; for more than a century it has been a museum with its own collection. The collection consists primarily of works on paper. Rembrandt’s etchings are well represented of course, but the museum also has prints by his predecessors and contemporaries, as well as by modern and contemporary artists who were inspired by Rembrandt. — Museum Het Rembrandthuis
Arges Black Condensed is the main character for legible titling.

Legibility criteria

Studies have shown that the most legible typefaces are those to which we are accustomed as readers. Up until the Second World War, for example, Germans had no problem reading an entire novel written in small Gothic type. For several decades, Americans praised the clarity of capitals over lowercase type, preferred by the modernists of the Bauhaus and the Swiss Neue Typographie.

Legibility studies bring more nuance to these quick statements.

1. Habit: we read more quickly texts composed in typefaces we're used to reading.

2. Openness: we read best texts composed with open letterforms: a "c" that's a little too closed will look like an "o" if you're reading fast or tired. So it's important that each glyph in a typeface is as different as possible from its neighbor.

3. X-height: we read better lower-casses with a high x-height: this is obvious, since this parameter brings greater openness to the counterforms.

The Performance Space Exhibition showcases a wide range of possibilities for theater architecture. From found and transformed spaces to major national projects to temporal outdoor structures, especially those in remote or complicated areas where the creators of the space might not be architects.
Contemporary performances take place in many spaces outside of traditional theatres, and these can be just as exciting and valid as those in traditional multifunctional performing arts structures made exclusively by architectural firms. The buildings and spaces that come alive for a performance are complex organisms fusing together ancient traditions with new important views.
No matter how beautiful or complex a piece of stunning architecture might be, without a connection to the community and the dialogue between the creator and artists using the space, the result might be a lifeless shell of a building.

Client: Prague Quadrennial
Concept & design: Matěj Činčera, Jan Kloss
Extended technical support & photography: Marek Volf

Zoo operate as a logo font for the whole identity of the exhibition.


Capitals or lowercase?

From this first observation, we can state that capitals tend to draw a more homogeneous typographic gray thanks to the repetition of a set of shape modules. However, lower-case letters offer more formal variety and rhythm.

Lowers are therefore appropriate if their X-height is high.

Lemme walk across the room, the first New York City solo exhibition by the emerging artist Eric N. Mack, transforms the Museum’s great hall with a site-responsive installation of new and existing textile-based works hung, mounted, and draped in conversation with the classical architecture of the space. Mack’s work explodes the boundaries of painting, sculpture, and fashion, dynamically reflecting and framing the rich visual experiences of the everyday. — Brooklyn MuseumThe big banner hanging from the ceiling pairs Oroban (used for the artist name) with GT America (the museum’s corporate typeface).

Serif or sans serif?

These three criteria do not settle the debate on the relevance of impasto in reading. It's true that impasto adds morphological detail, making it easier to distinguish one glyph from another, but these structural elements also tend to clog up counterforms, making word silhouettes less legible.

The solution may lie in robust impastos, but offering a certain general openness: Fautive or Nuances are therefore typographic families that can prove highly legible for cultural signage, for example.

Houses of the Future brings out a reflection on how will the world evolve in the near future and how will we live in it. The emptiness and uncertainty fuse into the hope of being able to reformulate our purpose to save the earth. The installation is part of Later Came Early exhibition at Fabrica research centre in Treviso, Italy. (Via Lucía Peralta)
Slussen stencil

Normal or Bold?

Beware, however, that Fautive or Nuances exist in rather subtle weights offering rather pronounced decrescents. However, legible signage is also graphic design exploiting typefaces with fairly pronounced optical greys. A ultra-light typeface can be legible, but at a very large size or close reading. Generous weights are therefore more suitable for reading at smaller sizes and greater distances, but only if the other parameters are respected (lowercase, aperture and x-height).

Choosing an OpenType font also allows you to set an interpolated fat that can be adapted with greater finesse to media or production techniques.

Langara Construction is a building practice specializing in design-driven and architecture-led residential construction projects. Located in the Greater Toronto Area, Langara Construction works alongside teams of award-winning architects, interior designers, landscape architects, and property developers to realize innovative structures that aim to propel the future of city building. With a distinct drive to produce buildings of enduring quality, Langara Construction meticulously oversees each project from conception to completion.Vanderbrand developed a new visual identity that would establish Langara Construction as a leading authority in residential and multi-residential construction. Led by a striking graphic symbol, the resulting brand is designed around a contemporary framework that reflects the internal structures and processes of building. Grounded by the weight of the logo mark and supported by captivating photography, Langara Construction’s new visual presence allows for compositional flexibility across a wide range of brand applications.Drawn with reference to geometry and architecture, the logo mark utilizes overlapping primary shapes to construct an abstracted graphic monogram that captures both the angular edges and round curves of Langara Construction’s initials. The resulting symbol is an iconic emblem that feels organic yet constructed. The monolithic form is balanced by a light-weight sans-serif wordmark set in Beausite Classic; pulling apart from each other to anchor the visual space within each composition they occupy. The secondary type is Surt.

Roman or Italic?

The question may seem pertinent, but if you think about it, signs composed in italics are extremely rare. In fact, this variant is mostly reserved for translations into foreign languages. So, for the same information, the text written in the national language will be in roman, and the English translation will be in italics. Choosing the right typeface for your signage also means thinking about the various parameters: roman, italic, small caps, numbers, etc.

The Swiss cleverly opted for a slanted version, a false italic, guaranteeing forms closer to Roman without too many changes in the optical gray of the text.

Stories of Contemporary Documents (SOCD) is the title of an exhibition held at MADA Gallery. From the Monash University website:Recent exhibitions of architecture depict a discipline in a battle between escapist claims for autonomy and approaches to research that are removed from the discipline entirely. The exhibition label is the arena, the artefacts on display are the evidence. The description-less label provokes the viewer to attempt to understand the artifact alone, whereas the lengthy essay-like description suggests the document on display acts as nothing more than a prop. Better Together: Stories of Contemporary Documents emerges at the intersection of this battle. Its collection of documents and stories re-evaluates the construction of this dichotomy.The typography of the exhibition uses Oroban by Blaze Type and Monument Grotesk by Dinamo


Signage systems call for a form of evidence in understanding and reading. And if a picture is worth a thousand words, then the pictogram must also be part of the typography.

Arrows, like bullets or punctuation, are an integral part of type design. Give them the utmost importance, as these small elements have also been designed with particular care for optical corrections or inktrap.

(X,Y) paper is my Bachelor project in Visual communication at the Department for Design at the KHiB (Kunst- og designhøgskolen i Bergen / Art and design university Bergen).It’s a research project about polarization and how we as humans relate to our opponents. The project explores how we interact and talk to people with completely different opinions then our self. The project has resulted in a printed newspaper. The newspaper aims to use design as one of several tools get the reader to reflect around how he or she talks to her own opponents and how we can do this in a better and more tolerant way.

Custom Font!

For all these reasons, the development of a cast iron dedicated to signage is too often forgotten. Yet Adrian Frutiger (1928-2015) finalized the Frutiger in 1976 after starting the design in 1959 under the name Concorde, then in 1968 for the Aéroport Charles de Gaulle.

Rules as representative of a Swiss modernist spirit

Test to find out

Unlike other fields of graphic design using typography, signage requires serious experimentation. Laser-printing an A3 to imagine the signage for a fast-food restaurant is still close enough to reality, but creating 2-meter-high lettering for the head office of a major corporation requires at least 3D rendering with exact lighting power and temperature parameters. Cooperation with specialized service providers guarantees the right design and production, as well as the longevity of the system, which is expected to last for many years, if not decades.

Manufacturing processes cover a vast technical field, from neon or backlit lettering to illuminated forms, adhesive letters, laser-engraved media and much more. The field is far more creative than a freeway sign, and typography is a key element of design, just as it is in the pages of books, posters or web pages.

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