Tipperary based designer highlights need for overhaul of Ireland’s road signage

Current road signage not in line with State regulation on use of Irish Language nor meeting the challenges of Ireland’s new high speed motorway network and aging population profile

The recent publication of a startling piece of research entitled “Ireland’s dual-language road signs – where to next?” by designer Garrett Reil (Ballina, Co Tipp) has resulted in the talented designer being selected for inclusion in the Institute of Designers in Ireland’s forthcoming Generation: Best of Young Irish Design exhibition which will open at the Crafts Council Gallery in Kilkenny on 31st October, 2009.

The study, conducted with the National College of Art & Design, has highlighted numerous design weaknesses in the country’s current road signs and resulted in the designer being invited last month to Dáil Éireann to address the Oireachtas ‘Joint Committee on ‘Arts, Sport, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs’.

“The study highlighted that 77% of Irish language speakers chose an alternative design for greater clarity, in preference to Ireland‘s current sign design. I welcomed the opportunity to demonstrate to the Oireachtas how the functionality of Ireland’s road signs could be greatly improved by utilising an alternative colour-differentiated design, similar to that used in other countries.” says Reil, the author of the study, who has in the past designed a new typeface for London Transport.

Also commenting on the study, Julian de Spáinn, General Secretary, Conradh na Gaeilge, stated “This research points out that, contrary to Government guidelines1, Irish language text on our current road signs is not effectively equal in size or prominence to English and we were very interested in looking into the improved performance and benefits that an alternative design for Ireland’s dual language signs would offer.”

Current sign (left) uses italics for Irish and uppercase for English. Neither is optimal for use in Road signs. (Image Wikipedia – commons license). Prototype sign (right) uses colour differentiation for languages and a specially-designed typeface 'Turas' to enhance the clarity of words.

Current sign (left) uses italics for Irish and uppercase for English. Neither is optimal for use in Road signs. (Image Wikipedia – commons license). Prototype sign (right) uses colour differentiation for languages and a specially-designed typeface 'Turas' to enhance the clarity of words.

Other Key Findings

Another significant finding of the study was that 58% of English speakers also selected the alternative design in tests for clarity, despite familiarity with the existing road sign design. This confirms that the new proposed design solution would increase road sign functionality and performance for all drivers.

Aging Population

In line with US findings the study also highlights the serious implications that road sign design has for an aging population, such as Ireland, where it is predicted that by 2026 the country’s over 65 population will have more than doubled, from the current level of 11% to 25% 2. One of these implications is the negative effect of ‘halation’ or blurring that occurs when headlights hit the highly reflective material currently used in Irish road signs, making them more difficult to read.

bove: Simulated effects of ‘halation’ on a current Irish road sign versus a test road sign (right). The same ‘halation’ effect is applied to both signs.

Above: Simulated effects of ‘halation’ on a current Irish road sign versus a test road sign (right). The same ‘halation’ effect is applied to both signs.

Maximum legibility and clarity of design are key requirements for addressing the effects of both halation and increased car speeds, issues that have become more urgent with the recent introduction of a number of new motorways throughout Ireland.

“With an ageing population profile, it is essential that we optimise the design of our road signs to ensure that the needs of older drivers are addressed. High speeds put more pressure on driver’s decision making and improvements that can help a driver’s reaction time and decision-making process will result in safer driving conditions, not just for older drivers, but for all.” Dr David Caron, Head of Visual Communication, National College of Art and Design.

Recent US research recommended a dramatic increase in sign size to cope with age-related legibility issues. However, a design solution3 which improved the clarity of the typeface or font was found to be more effective both in terms of cost and legibility.

Reil’s Proposed Design Solution for Ireland’s Road Signage

Reil has created a prototype new typeface or font ‘Turas’ (see images above), which optimises letter and word shapes without the need for uppercase or italic letters (both contrary to best legibility practise). In the US, this optimisation of letters dramatically reduces the effects of ‘halation’ and ensures faster recognition at increased distances (84 feet improvement/1.3sec at 45mph). The new proposed design would also utilize colour differentiation so that the driver, having seen the sign, discerns colour of language choice, and thereafter disregards messages in the opposing colour. Reil’s study concludes that the implementation of this new design solution will dramatically increase the legibility and clarity of Ireland’s road signs. The fact that these benefits can be achieved without increasing sign size would also ensure a reduction in signage costs for the state.

  1. “the lettering of the text in the Irish language shall not be smaller in size than the lettering of the text in the English language” (Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs 2006). At present, there is however an exclusion clause for Irish road signs from this legislation.
  2. http://www.cso.ie/newsevents/pr_ageinginireland2007.htm
  3. Information on new US road sign design solution http://clearviewhwy.com & New York Times Article ‘The Road to Clarity’ http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/12/magazine/12fonts-t.html

About Garrett Reil

Garrett is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) and a member of the International Society of Typographic Designers. He is a graduate of Limerick School of Art and Design, 1990, where he received an RSA award (UK) for communications design and was NCEA (National Council for Educational Awards) design graduate of the year. More recently Garrett completed an MA in Design, Visual Communication, from the National College of Art & Design. He has, in the past, worked in London and Dublin with leading international design consultancies and founded Raindesign.com with Clíona Geary in 1998. In the past, Garrett has designed a new typeface for London Transport, co-designed signing manuals for Bass Plc and led the implementation of a new identity for Delta Air Lines. Recently, he designed a brand identity and website for the new Wexford Opera House, information design for RTÉ, and launched the Irish premiere of ‘Cancer Tales’. For further information visit Raindesign.com. Garrett lives and works in Ballina, Co. Tipperary.

About IDI – Institute of Designers in Ireland

Formed in 1972, IDI is the representative body for the Irish design profession. Its function is to promote high standards of design, to foster professionalism and to emphasise designers’ responsibility to society, to the client and to each other. Generation: The Best of Young Irish Design 2009 exhibition, to be held at the Crafts Council Gallery in Kilkenny from 31st October, 2009 to 31st January, 2010, is a multidisciplinary showcase of the very best 3rd level graduate design work in Ireland. IDI’s Design Week 2009 takes place from November 2nd to 8th and is a week long celebration of Irish and international design. For further information visit www.idi-design.ie

About the NCAD (National College of Art & Design) Design Faculty

The Design Faculty at NCAD is the academic centre with the greatest concentration of design researchers and practitioners in the state. It maintains a high-level of engagement with the broader contexts of design and industry beyond the College, and has developed many partnership projects and collaborations testing out new design solutions and challenges. For further information visit www.ncad.ie

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Tipperary based designer highlights need for overhaul of Ireland’s road signage

  1. Panu

    Besides, the new signage gives Irish a much more modern appearance. I adore Gaelic fonts, but the fact is that they are illegible and give the language an unnecessarily antiquated appearance, and the current font used for Irish looks like an attempt to reproduce something of that illegibility and antiquatedness. 😦 I much more prefer the bilingual signage in Wales – and in my own country, of course.

  2. usefull information like always. Thanks.

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