Social Activism as Design through Typography

Understanding Graphic Design as Social Activism

When I started eagerly reading the Sunday NYT Magazine article the Road to Clarity I thought it was going to deliver a compelling mention of the process that design can be used to help create a better environment. And for the most part it does help explain what legibility in typography can do to help people read things from far distances. It also describes the passion that designers are willing to go through to see their ideas turned into reality. In this case it’s about changing the typeface that is used on American Roadsigns. Imagine dealing with a government bureaucracy to change a typeface so people will get two more seconds to read a sign as they drive by.

For my main thesis project in my undergrad program (many years ago) for my Bachelor of Design I worked on a similar road sign project that looked into how design could make road signs more understandable. I’m not going to disagree that legibility at night is an important factor to understanding signs, and yes I tried some of the similar blurring techniques of typefaces that the article talks about. And even modified a couple sans serifs to increase the ability to see the typeface when you are under difficult viewing conditions. But I think the whole article ignores something more pragmatic when driving. Depending on the placement and how many signs are stuck beside each other, if you’re on a freeway that has six or seven lanes it’s difficult to decipher which sign represents to the corresponding lanes. In that respect the article ignores the layout of information that I think would help in making quick driving decisions. How the information is organized is as much of an issue as how it reads and that seems to be missing from the article.

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