Is it time to rethink road signs?

One design firm's vision for the future of American highway signs.

Whenever I embark on a road trip from one American city to the next, there are a few things I can depend on seeing, whether I’m in the heart of Missouri or hurtling along the East Coast. Gas stations will litter the landscape, high-flying McDonald’s billboards will pop up every 30 or miles or so, and those familiar green road signs will guide me to my final destination.

The golden arches and gas stations probably won’t go away anytime soon, but the staying-power of those rounded green signs is up for debate at least among the design community. As a recent project for Icon Magazine’s annual Rethink issue, San Francisco-based design studio Manual was asked to, well, rethink the current U.S. road sign system.

Out to change what the designers considered a “confusing, inconsistent, and messy” system, Manual started by replacing the bright green signs with color-coded gray ones. While the designers replace green with gray, they maintain consistency by using the same tones (blue, white, and black) to indicate whether a road is an interstate highway, a U.S. highway, or a state highway. Exits, on the other hand, are signified by a simple yellow strip.

Manual also does away with the blue and red shields that currently serve as route markers. Calling them dated and reminiscent of a “police state,” the firm replaces them with a simplified, rectangular numerical system.

To give their new system a truly modern feel, Manual also integrates smartphones and wireless technology into the modified road trip experience. The group’s plan calls for every exit sign to emit a wireless signal, allowing them to connect with a smartphone app provided for free by the Department of Transportation. As a driver whizzes by various exits, his or her phone (or preferably, the phone of the person in the passenger seat) will automatically update with information about nearby gas stations, restaurants and other roadside attractions.

The app would presumably replace the blue attraction signs that accompany highway exits and would give information not just on the fast-food chains visible from the road, but smaller, independent shops and restaurants.

“The app would be designed to encourage discovery, spontaneity and scenic routes,” the write-up in Icon states. “Perfect for the all-American family road trip.”

Would you welcome Manual’s road sign redesign? Check it out in comparison to the current signage system in the pictures below.

[via Fast Co.Design]

Images: Manual

This post was originally published on