The Fifty States Project: Introduction

The Fifty States Project: Introduction

Posted Thursday, April 9, 2015

It's pretty common for designers and artists to challenge themselves regularly to keep their creative juices flowing. A type designer might regularly practice hand lettering each letter of the alphabet in a distinct style. A graphic designer might invent fictitious companies and build a brands for them.

Today I begin a project of my own.

I'm a fairly avid traveller, and between road trips, day trips and visiting family in Philadelphia, I have crossed quite a few state lines. From point A to point B, I'm always taking note of the signs I see, and it's difficult to resist donning my graphic designer hat.

Though graphic design is always a balance of form and function, the vast majority of highway signs are designed from a completely utilitarian standpoint—big (but not too bold) sans-serif font with a tall x-height, and white type on green to maximize readability at all hours of the day and in all conditions. And rightly so. After all, it's more critical that we can discern from a momentary glance which exit is approaching than it is to get lost in the subtle elegance of the sign's visual appeal.

But there's one type of sign on the highways that could benefit from a greater attention paid to aesthetics—the welcome sign.

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Come on, Pennsylvania, we can do better!

Welcome signs offer us a wonderul opportunity to get creative. Since at-a-glance legibility isn't as critically important as in most other road signs, we are able to better balance the scales of form and function.

Redesigning a state's welcome sign is also an excellent branding exercise. The sign should make a great first impression for first-time visitors and give them a sense of what the state is all about. The application of a thoughtful color palette and typeface alone can go a long way in conveying the state's identity.

I hope you join me over the coming weeks as I take a virtual journey across America, learning all about what makes each state unique and [hopefully] translating that identity into my designs.

First up? My home state of Massachusetts.


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