This review is a bit of a departure from the format I’ve established on this site. US Highway fonts are a genre of typefaces that I adore, but there are so many great interpretations that focusing any single typeface would mean missing out on a lot of stellar work. Therefore, this review will focus on the style as a whole, while addressing some of the more notable type families in greater detail.
I’m always fascinated when a genre of typefaces finds widespread use outside its original intended medium. Highway Gothic was designed to maximize legibility for road signs are highway speeds, but designers have found surprising and diverse uses for its derivatives in the decades since—everything from entertainment magazine interiors to vintage-themed branding projects. Designers will always find a use for clean, clear letterforms, and that’s helped Highway Gothic and its descendants take on many new lives.
If I had to hypothesize why this genre of fonts has remained so popular, I’d guess that it centers around the variety in the weights and widths available, their ubiquity in American culture, and the unpolished “wrongness” of many of the design details. The numerals are odd and unique while remaining legible and go a long way to adding charm to what could feel like a cold, mechanical design. The letterforms are simple, low contrast and unadorned, yet are brimming with character. The different interpretations and revivals of Highway Gothic that have been released over the years either embrace this quirkiness or attempt to smooth it out, allowing designers to bring as much or as little of the original’s eccentricity as they want into their design. Many of the revivals that exist are available at either low cost or for free, making it an accessible genre for designers to deploy in their work.