(Above) A California license plate as I remember it, recreated here for you by piecing together letter forms from other license plates I found online.

(Above) The word “erase” painted on a parking garage floor.

I WAS RECENTLY IN CALIFORNIA FOR A MEETING. BEING A DESIGNER AND AN ARTIST, I NOTICE THINGS, sometimes too many things for my own good—especially if I am driving. I wanted to share with you three typographic things I felt worthy of sharing. Unfortunately, I only had my camera available for one of the three, and it’s the center, black photograph. The other ones, I recreated for you.

Let’s start with the license plate at the top. As I was about to cross a street, I noticed a man standing next to a car—it was something sleek and low to the ground. But it wasn’t the car that caught my eye, but the license plate. Whoa-a-a! I stopped to take a better look.

Since the owner of the car was standing there, I asked him about his license plate. I told him that I really “liked the design of the letters, the way he had created a pattern that became more than letters, but something rhythmic and patterned.” He looked at me like I was a little odd, but I went on to say how I had often thought about a vanity plate similar to his, something with a series of “W”s and “M”s that created a pattern... like making art from the letters and numbers. (Other examples might be a series like the letter “I” repeated, like this: IIIIIII, or a pattern like this: L7L7L7L, or VVVVVVV).

When I asked him why he made his plate the way he did, especially the fact that I noticed he had tucked the letter “N” in the series of “W”s and “M”s to break the pattern, he said he ordered the plate like that because “it would be difficult for the police to recall or focus on his plate as he drove by.”
Wow! I thought. A pretty good idea! Especially with the letter “N” there, it was difficult to notice—sure to be wrong when recalled in court.

I was so focused on the man’s license plate that it wasn’t until later when my friend told me the car was a Ferrari. Now it all made sense— this was a perfectly legal way to be sure his license plate would not be remembered correctly as his speeding car sped by.

The center image: As I was walking through the parking garage at the San Jose airport, I noticed something rather cryptic painted on the floor of the garage. I stopped my fast pace for a better look and still confused as to what it said, I decided to take a photograph. It looked like a word of some kind, but was so odd. What did it say? Or was it a word at all? I wasn’t sure. After a minute, I figured out that it said “erase.” To erase what, I do not know. But I liked it.

Finally, in the bottom image, is the word “ELEVATOR.” This word was part of a professionally made logo on the side of a truck waiting at a stoplight, part of the name of a local elevator repair service. Graphically, I loved it. The actual company name is lost on me now as I was so fixated on the typographic treatment of the word “elevator.” Let’s just say it was part of something like “Acme Elevator Company” —for lack of a real name. This wonderful graphic treatment of the word “elevator” stuck with me. I hurried home and recreated it for you. It was really good, I thought.

Words, letters, fonts, symbols: they can be used to confuse, or to describe or to illustrate. They can instill mystery... and make you work harder to understand. All of these three typographic treatments were made for different reasons, all are visually compelling and I thought, worthy of sharing with you today.