As you can imagine, hand-lettering is playing the role here.
I recently discovered that some Hong Kongers share an interest in this lively character set. Perhaps none more so than Gary Yau 邱益彰. Gary pays close attention to Hong Kong’s traffic signs. He was one of a handful of Hong Kongers who noticed with dismay
when the Government switched from using Transport to a sloppy mix of Helvetica and Arial—both less legible in traffic than the original.
Gary Yau has dubbed these hand drawn Chinese letters Gaam Juk Tai
監獄體, or ‘Prison Gothic.
’ (‘gothic’ being another name typographers use for ‘sans-serif’ typefaces). That’s because, since the 1970s, Hong Kong’s road signs have all been hand made by prisoners
here’s a video depicting
it how it’s done.
Production of road signs happens at Pak Sha Wan Correctional Institution in Stanley. Under Hong Kong law, adult inmates must be meaningfully occupied for six days each week. Each year, the prison’s residents manufacture around 7,000 roadsigns and 1,500 square metres of way-finding signage. Almost all of Hong Kong’s roadsigns are produced there.
Not all street signs are hand drawn, however, not since 1997:
These days, one-off signs that feature place names or street names are digitally printed. Mass-produced traffic signs, such as ‘No Stopping’ or ‘Pedestrians Prohibited’ are hand printed using precise silkscreen templates. In either case, the new roadsigns have none of the imperfections that characterised their forebears.