Millions of people from different backgrounds, regions and countries move through airports every day. With so much diversity, it is essential for airport signage to communicate as clearly as possible to the greatest number of people.
For years, Helvetica was the face of the airports.
While I see a trend for airports to makeover themselves with new typefaces and colors, I’m still amazed at how many airports create their signage using the Helvetica typeface. Despite recent trends for airports to re-sign using more humanist faces, such as Myriad, Frutiger, and variants thereof, I still see a lot of airports using Helvetica.
Helvetica is ubiquitous. You don’t spend any time deciphering the font — you simply read the words and receive the message. Helvetica is clear. It’s a good typeface with easy to recognize characters. From a distance, in bold weight, a lower case m looks like a lower case m. A serif face with more contrast between the components of the letterforms may not read as clear from a distance.
Helvetica is universal and versatile. It’s all over the planet. I’ve seen the Cyrillic version used in Eastern Europe. While I was trying to decipher unfamiliar words, I was not distracted by an unfamiliar typeface. It’s recognizable.
Airports and transit depots in England have long used Gill Sans and, more recently, a custom humanist typeface to which it is similar. Dallas/Fort Worth, my home airport, changed over their signage from Helvetica to Myriad. The New York City airports have switched to humanist Frutiger as well. I like the look of these typefaces. Yellow signage and Frutiger — very European was my first thought. I think they add an air of sophistication to the signage and the environment. They add a subtle uniqueness. To me, these fonts are the “face” of those airports.
But I’m always amazed at the timeless utilitarianism and, despite its ubiquity, how effective Helvetica is as a communications tool.
— Post From My iPhone