FHWA’s U-Turn on Clearview

Posted in City Wayfinding, Civic, Civic Wayfinding, College Wayfinding, Commentary, County Wayfinding, Regional Wayfinding, University Wayfinding on February 18th, 2016 by Mark VanderKlipp – Be the first to comment
The Clearview font has been used in multiple civic wayfinding systems across the country.

The Clearview font has been used in multiple civic wayfinding systems across the country.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has terminated its interim approval for use of the Clearview font. After 24 years of testing, the FHWA has determined that this font, which had been adopted by almost 20 states and is the standard in multiple civic wayfinding systems, is no longer to be used on U.S. roadways controlled by Departments of Transportation (DOTs). The new (old) standard is the Eisenhower-era Highway Gothic.

Clearview was introduced in 1994 by Meeker & Associates as an alternative to Highway Gothic for information on federal and state-controlled roadways, among other applications. Since then, it has been extensively tested in multiple research studies that have shown marked improvements in legibility and response time for drivers. In this ruling, the FHWA asserts that the primary benefit to legibility in the testing was the fact that newer retroreflective sheeting was used on the test signs. Their goal is to return all highway signage to one consistent font; in fact, they’ve essentially closed the door on any future development of alternative letter styles for highway use.

This has broad implications for wayfinding signage design in the U.S. and, as might be expected, professionals from designers to civil engineers to trade and regulatory associations have strong opinions on the ruling. At the very least, Highway Gothic has a larger letterform width, requiring larger sign faces in most cases. This could add significantly to the scale, location and cost of wayfinding signage in any environment. For a complete review of Clearview vs Highway Gothic, refer to this 2007 NY Times Magazine article.

As of March 1, 2016, any U.S-based project currently in design will be required to comply; existing signage will be changed as it reaches the end of its “serviceable condition.” Note that this ruling applies only to DOT-controlled roadways in the U.S.; Canadian officials are standing by their approval of the font.

Full text of the FHWA’s announcement

U.S. Dept. of Transportation Interim Approval Opinion, 2004

Society for Experiential Graphic Design (SEGD) Opinion

CityLab Commentary

Quartz Commentary


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The FHWA has issued a clarification on the ruling it issued on January 25, 2016 terminating the Interim Approval of Clearview as an alternate font to the MUTCD. With regard to community wayfinding signage systems, the use of alternate fonts is still possible.

To summarize:

  • Projects currently in fabrication do not need to comply.
  • To the extent possible, projects currently in design should switch to the

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