As Louis CK demonstrates all too hilariously, parking signs can be difficult to figure out. New York City decided to do something about it by hiring famed designer Michael Bierut and his team at Pentagram to overhaul the city’s signage. Particularly of interest is conveying information clearly but working within specific confines to do so:
“I had no idea how complicated until we started this project. There are so many variables. What are you driving? How long do you want to park? What day is it? What time is it? Using tools like typography and color to help people parse all these overlapping factors was a real challenge.”
They began by working with the DoT to whittle down the content of each sign. The new messages are no longer than a tweet, at 140 characters–a nearly 50% reduction in text. When it came to reimagining the signs themselves, Bierut was drawn to changing the size of the placard, but quickly realized that economies of scale and materials in the DoT workshop made that impossible. The sign sizes would stay the same.
Instead, Bierut focused on typeface, size, and color. The team pared down the number type sizes to two, and changed the background colors to white. Red type is for commercial vehicles, and green works for private cars. They left-justified the text and chose smaller font sizes to reduce the visual clutter of the old signs, creating a basic hierarchy of information that makes an incredible difference. According to the Observer, they toyed with using Helvetica, which would have been a nod to Massimo Vignelli’s MTA signage. But after rounds of iterations, the team settled on a classic transit typeface: Interstate, designed in 1949 by Tobias Frere-Jones for the Federal Highway Administration.
A good lesson from the project is to work with your users to achieve maximum results:
The results are an abject lesson in how good design can be applied to just about anything to solve problems.