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Sign of the Times

In 2003, the Federal Highway Administration approved the new font Clearview for use on signs

By Anne Brice May 19, 2009 Published in the November 2007 issue of Portland Monthly

Vector portland sign j0ufhd

Image: Michael Novak

WE ALL KNOW the feeling: You’re cruising down I-5 at night and suddenly you feel like you’re wearing Grandma’s bifocals. The glare from your headlights blurs the plump letters on highway signs, leaving you squinting at them instead of the road. While we may have progressed from ancient Rome’s roadside stone markers, it’s not far enough for former Portlander and graphic designer Don Meeker. About 12 years ago, Meeker set out to fix this dangerous visual effect, known as “halation,” by putting the 50-year-old Highway Gothic font on a diet. Now, his trim Clearview font can be read from farther away and doesn’t blur as much.

Meeker, who now lives in New York, cites growing up in 1950s Portland, a time when architects like Pietro Belluschi were bringing much attention to the region, as one of the main reasons he chose to pursue design. He created signs for the National Park Service before teaming up with typographer James Montalbano to perfect Clearview. In 2003, the Federal Highway Administration approved the font, and more than 20 states have decided to use the new lettering. Oregon, interestingly, isn’t one of them. The Oregon Department of Transportation plans to test Clearview next year, but for now, to glimpse Meeker’s handiwork, you’ll have to hop on I-84 and drive 214 miles to Kennewick, Wash., squinting all the way.

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