How Do We Stay Safe? How Do We Stay Safe?
Design

How Do We Stay Safe?

by Zach Frechette, Rachel Domm, Jorge Colombo

August 16, 2007
One of the clearest examples of the potential of design is when the medium transcends aesthetics. Good design helps keep us safe, and can even save lives.In the United States we have more than 160,000 miles of interlocking highways that can quickly become a hazardous maze when traveled at 65 miles per hour. But thanks to the clever work of typographers, the system is eminently navigable. The original Federal Highway Administration fonts (Highway Gothic, informally) went into service in the mid-1950s, the result of research by the California Department of Transportation into making road signs legible at speed, from as great a distance as possible. The font family has been tweaked several times through the years, most notably in the form of Interstate, a 1993 redrawing by the legendary type designer Tobias Frere-Jones.Noting a growing number of older American drivers, in 1994 the FHWA considered a new, larger font that would have required drastic increases in the size of highway signs. Instead, designers Donald Meeker and James Montalbano created a typeface called Clearview, which was more legible than Interstate though it used similar-sized letters. Clearview boasts a 20-percent increase in the distance at which it can be read, which means a driver can react to information on the sign two seconds faster (that's almost 100 feet at highway speeds). It can be seen on signs in Pennsylvania, Texas, and elsewhere, and is expected to replace most FHWA fonts in the coming decades.-ZACH FRECHETTE

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Camouflage-a military staple since the late 19th century-has only recently started to take advantage of smarter design through science. Favorites like the desert battle dress uniform ("chocolate-chip camouflage," in Army parlance) are gradually being replaced with MultiCam, a camouflage that functions equally well in any terrain. Through sophisticated digital modeling and pattern printing, MultiCam is designed so that our minds smooth out the subtle anomalies of shape and color by blending them into the existing background.

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Since nonintuitive controls posed a distraction to motorists who felt it necessary to adjust their chairs while driving, Mercedes developed seat controls that mimicked the shape of the seat itself, in profile. Like most of its safety advances, Mercedes opted out of a patent, hoping instead that this important innovation would catch on industry-wide. Indeed, it's hard to find a car without this feature today.

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The cardboard sleeve protecting your fingers from that hot coffee cup was created in 1991 by a realtor named Jay Sorensen after he dropped his scalding java on his lap. All the major coffee purveyors quickly followed suit. Rightly so-the sleeve is both better for the environment and more effective at protecting from heat than double-cupping.
Tucker's pick:At New York's City & Country School, kids learn by doing. They build with big blocks, paint, and play on the "climber," a five-foot-tall U-shaped bridge with a slide-a shiny piece of wood with no side rails. Kids can see that if they're not careful they'll fall off. To grow, we need to take chances. Progress is littered with mistakes and accidents. Designers try to make things that are safer to use. But why live in a world where no one ever gets hurt?-TUCKER VIEMEISTER
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How Do We Stay Safe?