License plates – good for analogy and cool as designed objects

When I teach about Library of Congress call numbers, I like to show a photo of an Oregon license plate – the discussion that results – why do states need to use letters AND numbers? so there are enough combinations so every car gets a unique plate! – really helps to explain why LC is so complicatedly funny looking. It’s not a perfect analogy – license plates are random, LC isn’t – but it works. (I write much more about using analogies in the library instruction classroom here).

Anyway, it’s finally Finals Week so I have some time to tackle the to-do list before my summer break – one of my oldest notes (from, like, January) reminds me to design my own made-up number license plate graphic, just in case my Google-imaged Oregon plate really belongs to a real car. You never know.

Being a typography geek, I don’t want to mess around: I want to use the REAL font for Oregon plates. But who knew the hunt would be so interesting? I found a complete history of Oregon plate design (we’re one of the only states to manufacture plates in-state) and so much more …

Did you know that there is no official US license plate font? Seems weird since there are strict typeface rules for all other road signage. But no: it’s up to states to design their own plates (which makes sense if you’ve ever driven in Virginia).

For a fascinating history of plate design, check this out:

So much to think about here: embossed lettering v. digital (flat) lettering – does it make a difference in terms of road visibility?

I’ll leave you with an international gallery of license plates, including historical designs:

Happy Finals Week! Drive safe!!


WhatTheFont Forum – typography geeks rejoice!

Back in my “document creation specialist” days, when my job was to design digital menus and business cards that exactly matched paper prototypes, I could identify hundreds of fonts by sight. I could have told you the fonts used in any movie’s credits, any billboard, any packaging, anything.

Sadly, font knowledge is one of those “you don’t use it, you lose it” kind of skills, so I’m not nearly as good at it now. But I still love typography, and I’m not yet hopeless – I knew 24 out of the 34 type faces in The Rather Difficult Font Game!

Still, there’s nothing more frustrating than trying to match a font when you don’t know its name. Back in the day, all a designer could do was flip through enormous font books trying to compare serifs and slants and – my old standby – lower case “g”s.

It’s too bad my font skillz atrophied years before the social web revolution … now there’s the WhatTheFont Forum, a community of font geeks that tries to identify the fonts used in uploaded images, like the 7-11 logo. Typography geeks unite!

Check it out: