Disrupting Typographic Transit Norms

April 17, 2011

Less is More, set in unadorned typeface Helvetica (more for Helvetica fetishists)

We’re so used to global transport networks featuring unimbellished typography in their signage and way-finding systems. Fair enough given that commuters require information to be legible, especially at high-speed interchanges or at unfamiliar junctions where there maybe all manner of other distractions. Fonts in the context of transit tend to be of the less-is-more, non-decorative, minimalist variety.

Frutiger pops up on Swiss road signs, at London’s Heathrow airport, on the Dutch national railways, and more. Univers strikes signage on the Montreal Metro, San Francisco’s BART and the Frankfurt Airport. Helvetica graces the NYC Subway system, my former regular transits on Hong Kong’s MTR, the Madrid Metro and beyond. (Its unobstrusivenss promoted typographic creator and critic, Jonathan Hoefler, to quip on it’s elusiveness to being evaluated: “Its like being asked what you think about off-white paint?”) If you’re a transit-type nut – you can check out more wiki-liciousness yourself, while everyone else reads on.

“Dilli-Metro” hacked in typeface Shree 715 (thanks to local type-geek Ghate)

On my recent trip to Delhi I encountered more of the uniform minimalism associated with mass public transit signage. Though tracking down the typefaces used proved to be a much tougher journey. I started by consulting with my cluster of global type-recognition experts, who all drew frustrated and occasional blushing blanks. My obsessive typo-curiousity evetually led me to Mudra Max’s wayfinding consultant, Sanjeev Hajela, who had led the team which devised signage for the Delhi Metro. The Hindi is Shree 715. The English is Brunel (Positive). Again, if you’re type-obsessed, you can venture on to Brunel’s relative obscurity yet public prominence and leave everyone else to stay with my train of thought.
 

Finally getting to the point – what really sung out at me during my own stop-hopping Delhi Metro experience, in India’s crowded yet colorful capital, was this exuberent diversion from standardised norms. Guys – don’t you just feel like you’re missing out on the party?

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