In Defence of Stretchy Letters
"Don't stretch your letters,"was one of the first take-aways I had from my design education. We were taught that designers do not grab text by the anchor-points and pull, and that lettering is not to be molded, like clay; it is to be pasted, like a sticker.
I, like my peers, subscribed to this rule, and used our fonts right out of the box. Our designs were neat and tidy, and everything was going well, until I realized that not everyone plays by the rules, and stretchy letters save lives.
The most practical example of stretchy letters is on our roads. It took a while before I started to notice, but the arrows, symbols, and letters on our roads, are actually two to three times the height we expected them to be.
Most of the time, the things we read are on still, flat surfaces at eye level, like a book or a computer screen. But when we take that surface, place it at a low angle, and drive over it at 50 kilometres an hour, we can't read anything. That was the problem which lead to the innovation of stretched road lettering.
The width:height ratio of road lettering is intentionally skewed vertically to maximize the visible surface area from low angles. People rarely notice this detail because, from the angle of the oncoming driver, the letters look normal, and perfectly legible.
In these circumstances, the functionality of the lettering has been prioritized over aesthetics. And although this wonky formatting may not follow the typographic rules prescribed by design instructors, it helps get the right message across quickly and clearly–something designers and design teachers will agree is very important in any piece of design.
Clear messaging on our roads means that drivers will know, in advance, that they should change lanes because the lane they are in is “bus only”, or they should change course because they're about to turn the “wrong way” down a one-way street.
This increase in road safety is thanks to the person who decided that things would be a little better if the letters were stretched taller.
To all of the designers breaking the rules in the name of functionality and safety, I say:
Tilt your screen flat to continue reading legibly.