Believe it or not, airport wayfinding signs are not designed to jump out at you. The Swiss type designer Adrian Frutiger, whose name–brand Frutiger font is a print–ready version of the Roissy typeface he designed for Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, once said airport type should draw as much attention as a spoon in a steamy ramen house. Airport signage is part of a transitory environment, and with type as the primary design element, the art is in its simplicity.
“It’s about the processing power that a brain needs to interpret something,” explains Sarah Hyndman, author of Why Fonts Matter. Unsurprisingly, a test by Heathrow Airport found sans serif Frutiger reads nearly two times faster than stylized Garamond Italic. Frutiger’s absence of serifs (little feet at the ends of letters), plus spacious apertures and open counters in letters like c, e, and s contribute to readability. The easier text is to read, the easier it is to follow, explaining why Frutiger, Helvetica and Clearview typefaces are used on an estimated 75 percent of airport signs.