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I'm making a sign for my kids' school, and am having trouble with one detail. The primary text is "Walking School Bus Stop". This, the school name, and a whimsical graphic all go into a 3:4 aspect ratio design. (This will be an actual metal sign placed on the street.)

The complication really all comes from the fact that "school bus" is properly two words. Because of this, it really reads better if the lines are broken like so:

Walking
School Bus
Stop

Because "Bus Stop" is also a familiar phrase, with a different break, it looks like we're talking about a "Walking School", when, really, it's the normal sort of elementary school that happens to have a program where we encourage kids and parents to walk instead of driving.

And, that, in turn, means that in the font I've chosen, the letter g drops down to get in the way of the B. Like this:

Walking School Bus Text

Which really irritates me visually. If I increase the line spacing, it seems too spaced (and I have to reduce the text size), which is not desirable.

What are good solutions here? It looks just fine if the text is all right-aligned — the g tucks down nicely over the u and s — but given the aspect ratio constraint it's hard to balance that and the other elements.

Font is Coolvetica. (Be glad it's not Comic Sans.) And it looks awful in all-caps, so that solution would really be "find another font", which isn't ideal.

What else could I do?

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Horrible font :) I'd pick another. What is a walking school bus?? Why not Walking Bus Stop? –  Scott Nov 2 '12 at 1:21
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+1 good question. I also love the idea of a bus stop for walking schools :) @scott Walking school buses are an organised thing where a bunch of kids walking to the same school meet at a set time and place and walk together, sometimes picking up other kids from other 'stops' on route. If it's a school-kids-only thing on a street sign, seems wise to specify so. –  user568458 Nov 2 '12 at 10:30
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The 't' in "Stop" is a crime against humanity. I know that's not really constructive, but I just HAD to say it. –  Andy S Nov 5 '12 at 18:46
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@Ryan: and, crucially, it is not Comic Sans. I think I mentioned that. :) –  mattdm Nov 9 '12 at 17:25
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the 't' does seem... pretentious, sitting amid all the helveticas and has terrible stem widths and even the curve of the t is just... yuck... –  Kumar Harsh Aug 8 at 7:22

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I think some manual kerning would help tremendously. Since "School Bus" is made up of many wider letters and "Walking" has a series of skinnier letters, it makes the spacing of the letters in "Walking" look even tighter by comparison. Increasing the kerning in "Walking" would make it look a lot better and a lot more legible, and it would land the "g" closer to the "u" so I think this would help with your leading problems. You could probably get away with increasing the leading between the first two lines just a bit - the short "op" in "Stop" make the space between the last two lines look wider, so you should try to visually balance the leading.

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Well, here is one way to do it. Not that I'd probably recommend...but it does get the descender out of the way.

heeheeheeheeheeheeheeheeheeheeheeheeheehee

But more seriously, one thing you might try is flushing the text right, tightening up the leading, and throwing a vertical rule next to the text. Depending on how the rest of the elements around this look, it might work...

flush-right

By the way, what is the intended parsing of the words? Is this a stop for walking school buses, a bus stop for walking schools, or a school bus stop that walks? I'm guessing it's a stop where the bus stops to pick up walkers who have walked part of the way?

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i tend to agree on font change, since there is nothing special enough about that one to justify keeping it when it doesn't fit.

but to fix the g i would make the word walking bigger, maybe as much as 20% but definitely enough to move the descender away from the edge of the b. the word "walking" is kind of the most important part of the message anyway, the sign itself covers the 'stop' part, and as someone else said, those in the know, will know the school.

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I really think you're fighting your own font choice here. I would recommend looking into fonts that are specifically meant for signage, such as Clearview, the FHWA Series or Roadgeek 2005. Even something like Helvetica Neue Condensed Bold would work well (especially in all caps). That alone might solve your problem.

However, you might also want to consider changing the text to:

Walking
Bus Stop

I think you'll find the 'g' doesn't interfere quite as much.

Finally, another option I've seen on some road signage is to manually adjust the 'g' upwards, such that the descender does not actually descend. It looks reasonable as long as the descenders are short.

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To solve the offending 'g', have you tried just cheating the leading on the middle line a bit more than the one below. Thanks to the extra ascenders on that line, I don't think anyone will notice the discrepancy.

Have you considered using color to help people read the words the way you intend? Like emphasizing 'Walking' in blue or something along those lines. Let the colors clarify the intended adjective.

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Color isn't an option, unfortunately. –  mattdm Nov 2 '12 at 14:47
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In that case, you could switch to Univers/Akzidenz/Helvetiturd and exploit the many weights. –  plainclothes Nov 2 '12 at 23:45

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