In January 2012, Hanoi put in the use of new street sign formats. The purpose was to educate young people about historical figures. At first, the intention sounds like it is a good idea. Nowadays, not a lot of Vietnamese (especially the younger generations) know about the country’s background. History has long turned into a boring and dreadful subject at school. Therefore, publicly mentioning historical facts on street signs seemed to be effective. Nonetheless I beg to differ and the reason for ineffectiveness lies within the design.
Street signs, as all of us know, serve the most important function as giving direction and telling street names. It is the first directional factor people look at and probably the most important reason why we should have street signs. A functional street sign is the one that is legible and well displayed so that someone who is riding a vehicle can find where they are heading to.
The older street sign of Hanoi (in the picture above) works very well as a street sign. Its space was used effectively with a good balance of negative and positive space. The kerning and leading are alright (can be better). You can spot the sign far away and dimension of the sign is not even as big as the new one.
Now, let’s take a look at the new street sign. The information presented here are:
- Logo of Hanoi to the left corner
- The word “Street”
- Street name (aka name of a historical figure)
- Historical figure’s biography
I will discuss about the other graphic elements of this street sign in another blog post. They deserve one for their own. In this post, I will mainly focus on the use of grid, typography and information architecture; we will IGNORE craftsmanship. All those factors for a simple street sign!
Hierarchy-wise, this street sign is OK. Yes, you can spot the street name right away. There is plenty of negative space which might seem to give the sign a spacious feeling; perhaps it over kills here. Negative space, in this case, makes mistakes stand out even more than they already are. A few not-so-good things are:
- Everything is center-aligned.
- Typeface: Probably Helvetica if not Arial, and in a condensed typeface. Why is the tracking so tiny? The letters almost stick together; so close!
- Biography section (paragraph): Leading is too loose. All the lines look like they are a list instead of a paragraph. Font-size is too small, imposible to read from a distance. I had to step really closely to the sign to read everything (my eye sight is more than perfect, FYI).
- Only in Vietnamese—Why didn’t they think about using street sign for tourists also?
- Use grid system better.
- Instead of aligning everything in the center (with the city logo left-aligned), try breaking them into sections.
- Try bigger font-size for the paragraph, reduce the leading between the lines.
- Increase tracking for the name of the street.
I wish the city of Hanoi had reviewed different design approach for the street signs much better before changing on the streets. Plus, leaving both street signs (the old and the new) on the same block shows no respect to those who will be the main audience, in this case: the locals and tourists of this city.