Hot or Not?

San Francisco street signs are getting a makeover. As you can see from the montage below, our street signs have decided to stop yelling at drivers and instead use their lower-case voice. Which is shocking at first glance, but has kind of grown on me the more I look at it.

San Francisco Street Signs Get a Makeover

Ive got a slideshow at the bottom of the post showing all of the individual street signs in better detail, for those of you that want to obsess about kerning, pixels, and other fine points of graphic design.

My first impression was that the signs somehow looked cheaper. I think it was all the extra white space on the signs, like we couldn’t afford letters that were big enough for the sign. But the more I’ve stared at the new and old San Francisco street signs side-by-side, the more the new look grows on me. While at first it felt too timid, it now just seems like a more polite sign since the letters aren’t screaming in all caps.

I spotted these signs in Forest Hill Extension while on broker’s tour today, but I’m curious where else people have been seeing them? Is there an orderly city-wide rollout of new signs? Or will they be replaced as needed, methodically rolled out over time? I’m really hoping we get new signs everywhere – and soon – not because I’m wild about the new sign, but just because seeing both old and new next to other really bothers me!

Any sign experts out there? I’m curious about what goes into sign design. Safety, readability, tradition… how did it all come together for the new San Francisco street sign? Anyone that knows anything about the backstory on our signs, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment or get in touch.

Additional pictures of new and old San Francisco street signs:
[portfolio_slideshow width=640 showcaps=true  navpos=bottom pagerpos=bottom pagerstyle=carousel click=lightbox centered=true]


  1. says

    Just noticed these along Laguna Honda last night. My first impression is not favorable; I do like the look of the all-caps fonts, though I think in some cases, like Noe St., the signs look a little silly with the words being centered. I do find that the capital letters are a bit more clear and easier to read. There has been a bit of a controversy about this in Boston lately, though signage in Boston is far more inconsistent (you’re lucky if there’s a sign at a given intersection at all, actually) in general.

  2. Phil says

    I noticed new signs in my neighborhood. They look awful, particularly on signs with shorter names – too much blank white space and hard to read. Whoever authorized the new look should be fired.

  3. Matt Fuller, GRI says

    Phil – I’ve actually been trying to find someone at the city department in charge of signs that would talk to me about why they made the change, how they picked the font, etc. I haven’t found that person yet, but it’s on the list…

  4. Peter says

    This is not just in San Francisco and it’s not just in New York. It’s all around the country. All the street sign designs that are unique to local municipalities will soon be near-uniform, as they will all have the same Clearview typeface and be on one of just a few colour backgrounds. I like the typeface, but I mourn the individuality of each of the cities’ signs. San Francisco had some great ones in particular.

    • Matt Fuller, GRI says

      Peter – Yep, you are correct. I hadn’t realized that it was a highway bill that was driving all of this, but as you and the last commenter pointed out, that is indeed the case. I did a little reading about clearview, the whole project seems rooted in a good idea (easier to read signs) but I agree with you that it comes at the cost of losing some unique sign styles… Welcome to Clearview, like it or not! :-)

  5. Alex says

    This is very interesting. I found your post very comical. I guess it never really occured to me that the street signs in SF are basically yelling at people. I think that the capital letters represent a sort of Bigger presence the city has over the region and are in a way fitting. San Francisco is fairly small in terms of being a big city its not very big. The capital letter signs make san francisco seem bigger and more serious While the new signs have a more relaxed whimsical look to them. These sign changes are incredibly relavent to all of us but me especially as I’m currently at work on a San Francisco and Oakland Street sign project this summer. I have already pumped out a rough version of my San Francisco Sign project it can be seen here
    After doing my first version of this project i realize i missed A LOT of streets and i really want to accurately represent the city and its history through its street signs all of which convey historical significance and echo the history of our region and northern california. On a more moleculer level its interesting to look at how names, Places and signs relate to us and how we view our surroundings and how we associate a sense of “Home” with that. The Shift in San Francisco Street signs from upper case to lower case makes this street sign project a lot easier since i can use upper or lower case, as i suspect they haven’t finished replacing all signs yet. The city should sell the old signs to residents or something or just give them to me haha. The font used in the san Francisco street signs is called highway gothic and can be downloaded, you too can make your own san francisco street signs in photoshop if you wanted to. Anyways i cant offer a lot of insight into the logistics of the city in replacing or securement of these street signs but i do know a lot about the history behind the names in the signs and I’m very enthralled to learn more about the history behind the names as well as the history behind every day people who live, work and play in San Francisco. Streets are more important than we realize, people grow up, Raise their children, Propose and so on and these streets and their names are so incredibly important because of all that has happened on them.

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