Fonts for cars that require only the swiftest glance, so drivers’ eyes stay on the road

The need for speed is a legitimate concern when it comes to today’s car dashboards. They’re no longer just digits on a dial, and a pointer that loiters between F and E. Drivers have to absorb graphic and verbal information about their location, navigation and entertainment on top of every possible indicator of their car’s condition. And carmakers and designers need to convey it all in the blink of an eye.

Not only must a font emit visual appeal and brand consistency, it needs to be exceptionally legible, and readable at a glance. Developing an understanding of how and why font variables affect legibility under driving conditions could reduce driver distraction. Which is why Monotype funded pioneering research to do just that.

On the back of a landmark 2012 study, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology AgeLab and Monotype devised a cost-effective, flexible, streamlined methodology for testing typeface legibility under glance-like conditions, and investigated the role of typographic variants such as typeface style, size, weight, polarity, and case. The study showed that humanist typefaces are more legible under glance-like conditions than square-grotesque typefaces.

Humanist typefaces are the best choice for legibility

An important factor in the recognition of Latin characters is their openness — the distance between the terminations, or stroke endings. The open design of a humanist font makes for highly visible, distinctive letterforms that avoid blending into one another. You can see the difference when you compare the variety of terminations in the letter ‘c’, from square grotesque typefaces like Eurostile, to the more humanist typefaces like Frutiger. Large counters (the white space in letters like ‘o’, ‘b’ and ‘a’) and x-heights (the height of lower-case letters compared to upper-case) also help generate more open shapes that are easier to distinguish at a glance.

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