Wednesday, October 20, 2010

NEW YORK CITY or New York City - Street Sign Orthography

New York City has used all-capital letters on its street signs for over a century but recently decided to change the signs to both upper and lower case letters. According to The Week magazine (October 15, 2010 issue), the Federal Highway Administration feels that the new signs will be easier to read and thus drivers will spend less time studying signs and more time with their eyes on the road.

Compare this image of New York City street signs to one of Seattle street signs.

I have to say that I agree; it is much easier for me to read signs with upper and lower case letters than just upper case letters. I think the credit goes not just to the combination of the two cases, but maybe even more so to the ascenders and descenders of the lower case letters. If I am looking for a street that ends in the letter "y" it is much easier to identify the street from a farther distance when I can spot the descender of the lower case "y" than when the letters are in all caps and the "Y" is the same height as all of the other letters.

Click on images for credits.


Susan said...

Interesting post. The pictures help make your point. The descending tails of five lower-case letters (g, j, p, q, and y) are salient characteristics, making them stand out for me; they are more immediately recognizable as such. In like manner, I more readily recognize the letters with an ascending stroke: b, d, f, h, l, t.

Clara said...

Different typefaces also appear to have an impact on readability, cf

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