Common Airport Typefaces

25 Feb 2015

Public places are filled with signage. Some help people to find their way, others issue commands such as No Smoking, Keep off the Grass and Staff Only. Few people pay attention to the typefaces used on these signs when they are busy working out where to go and what they can and can’t do. In fact, most people would probably think that this wasn’t a particularly interesting subject to study.

But just about every subject has its interesting side. For example, did you know that of the many airports across the world – built miles apart by very different cultures – nearly all of them use the same three typefaces for their wayfinding signage?

Which Common Typefaces Are Used?

In the majority of airports ,only three typefaces are used. In fact, these three simple and common typefaces account for the direction signs in around 75 per cent of all airports. They are all part of the sans serif family of fonts, and can be commonly seen in a range of other settings as well. These three typefaces are Clearview, Frutiger and Helvetica.

Why These Three Typefaces?

There are some very good reasons why these three simple everyday typefaces are so very dominant in the world of airport wayfinding signage. Clarity is a big part of it. People – often dealing with unfamiliar or semi-familiar languages – from all over the world flock to airports. Many are in a hurry to get where they need to be before it is too late, and airports can be confusing places at the best of times. It is therefore essential to ensure that signs are as clear and readable as possible in order to make the lives of the travellers in the airport easier.

The three fonts that airports use are members of the sans serif family. This makes them rather tricky to read in small sizes on a close-up screen but good for reading in large sizes from a distance. In other words, they are just right for reading on a sign.

This is true of the entire sans serif family, but the three particular fonts that have become so dominant offer a few other advantages. All the letters are nice and distinct where other fonts may make some seem similar, and there is also a lot of variation between upper- and lower-case letters. This helps to make it nice and clear exactly what is written on the sign. Generous spacing between letters to ensure they are all distinctly separate also helps to ensure that the signs are ideal for quick and accurate reading.

While these three fonts are not the only ones to display these properties, they are three of strongest examples around. It is for this reason that they have so consistently been chosen by airports and have come to dominate a full three-quarters of the market between them.