Type design helps Parisians catch right bus
Parisian bus users may find life a little easier from this month thanks to a new LED display font created by French type designer Jean Francois Porchez
If you've used public transport in Paris in the last 15 years, you'll be familiar with type designer Jean François Porchez's work. The RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisien) is one of the biggest and most efficient urban transport networks in the world, with 10 million passengers using the Métro alone every day. In 1996, it briefed Porchez to update Adrian Frutiger's iconic Univers-based font created for the Paris Métro which was inaugurated in the 70s.
Porchez explains the advantages of Parisine over its predecessor on his Typofonderie website
In response, Porchez created Parisine, a customised font family which pays homage to Frutiger's creation, but with a slightly more feminine feel that's as sexy and elegant as the city itself. Parisine was extended in 1999 to a full family of 12 fonts for all wayfinding and directional sign systems and maps. Parisine Office was added in 2005 for advertising and internal and external communication. In 2006, Parisine Pro was launched, an updated version which includes small caps and is available to all users.
This month sees the introduction of Porchez's latest work for the RATP – a version of the font to be used on LED panel signage for Paris's buses.
The RATP wanted to optimise visibility on their bus fleet and to make it visually coherent with the Parisine font family, a complex brief with several challenges.
Firstly, the LED displays used can only handle a one-size-fits-all font with no measured spacing between letters. The maximum letterheight on the buses' front panels is just 18 centimetres. Secondly, the low resolution of LED lighting combined with the roll-sign and flip displays previously in use caused great problems for passengers with impaired vision. In addition, Parisian bus termini often have excessively long names such as Mairie d'Aubervilliers or École Vétérinaire de Maisons-Alfort. Finally, according to Porchez, there was no way to produce a working prototype; the design would have to go straight from printout mock-ups to implementation.
Unfazed, Porchez produced Parisine Giroutte, a complete family of three upper and lower case LED fonts. The project took him over a year with a team of six RATP project managers and an official from the French Ministry of Transport coordinating with the RATP's Accessinilité pour Tous (Accessibility for All) division.
"The letterform design was the principle issue," says Porchez. "We designed several versions, tested various weights and proportions until we found a solution that worked for everyone. We proposed using static text, in a smaller size than necessary, as preferable to large-sized moving text. Non-static text moves too fast to be read comfortably, especially when the bus is in motion, too."
Parisine Girouette Frontale is used for the destination on the bus front, condensed to allow maximum word length. Parisine Girouette Latérale Bold is used for the terminus name, Regular and Light are used to indicate intermediate stops. Great care was taken on the counters' design (for instance, the lowercase n is not squared like the o), while some letters have several variants to make kerning possible, something of a hallmark with Porchez's font creations.
The new design, it seems, has gone down well with the travelling public, who, in these days of instant online protest, perhaps paid it the highest of compliments – nobody noticed a thing.
[Ed: type design in this highly practical context is perhaps like a referee – working best when no-one notices it!]
Typeface designer: Jean François Porchez, with Mathieu Réguer and Sonia da Rocha. Website here.
This video explains more about the project:
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This is proper design at its best.
Useful, functional, practical and aesthetically pleasing to boot!
A few years ago in my spare time, I created a typeface for Dublin's "Luas" tram service. I tried to work within the limitations of the current hardware on trams.
What a lovely lovely typeface. Quite possibly the nicest LED usage I've seen. Really like the angles on the tails of the c and e. Very well done.
This is a great urban type design – it not only looks much better than before, it looks so much easier to use. Loads more public transport systems could do with Jean Francois Porchez's help.
I'm glad you write about a subject that touches me heart.
And being myself bus driver RATP, I am proud of your article.
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