South Korean road signs by Studio Dumbar

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South Korean road signs by Studio Dumbar

The Seoul office of Dutch designers Studio Dumbar has redesigned the national road signage system for South Korea.

South Korean Road Signs by Studio Dumbar

Working with typographer Pieter van Rosmalen, they created a new font for the English lettering that features narrow characters to accommodate the long translations plus wide spacing so the words can be read clearly when travelling at speed.

South Korean Road Signs by Studio Dumbar

They also developed guidelines for the layout, colours, arrows, road numbers and pictograms of all signs.

South Korean Road Signs by Studio Dumbar

The system is now being rolled out across the country.

South Korean Road Signs by Studio Dumbar

Here are some more details from the designers:


In 2008, Studio Dumbar started the development of the Korean national road signage system in co-operation with the Hong-Ik university. The previous road signage system had many disadvantages which led to confusion at best, and accidents at its worst. 

Challenges were the lack of logic in the system, regulatory problems, overcrowding, the fixed size of the panels and a disproportion in letter size, letter space and leading. With signs in both Korean and roman script, and in some areas even Chinese, it is no wonder the old signs were over crowded. The phonetically spelled, romanized translations of Korean words are often very long, making it a challenge to fit all the letters on one row. To add to the confusion, third parties were also placing signs with advertising around the traffic signs, making the roads even harder to navigate.

South Korean Road Signs by Studio Dumbar

Above: comparing readability

To answer these challenges, Studio Dumbar developed the guidelines for the layout, typography, color system and the graphical elements such as arrows, road numbers and pictograms. Together with type designer Pieter van Rosmalen, we developed a custom made fonts for the english translations.

South Korean Road Signs by Studio Dumbar

The new roman font, called ‘Hangil’, improves readability considerably. 

The font features a regular and condensed version and 
seven weights and italics. Both word- and letter-spacing are wide for optimal readability while moving at high speeds.

South Korean Road Signs by Studio Dumbar

Above: existing system

A special version for both dia-positive and dia-negative application were made, so the optical effect of the font on both dark and light backgrounds is the same. The background color of the panels was darkened for better contrast, and the arrows and pictograms were redesigned for better and quicker scanning while on the road. From 2011 onwards, the new signs will be implemented steadily throughout the country.

  • http://creativeroots.org Rod

    Great Article and work by Studio Dumb. I wonder what Hangil means? I guess it derives from "Hangul" which is the Korean writing system name.

    • hyun min ,Kim

      Hangil means Hangul(Korean character) + Gil(road), am I right?

  • maximilian

    Korean chracters are pretty amazing to look at. I want to see more work by korean graphic designers not sourcing other foreign companies.

  • http://www.odusee.com.au/catalogues Odusee Catalogues

    Ohhh I've never been to Korea, but I love to go there, hope this new road signs can direct me to the right direction.

  • blah

    looks pretty generic to me

  • http://visualscream.net Jan

    The typeface itself looks like an interesting project (nothing new though, see US ClearviewHwy for example). However, everythings else seems quite horrible to me. The Korean typeface has absolutely no visual connection to the Hangil type, when there's Chinese as well, it's, again, completelly different (third) typeface on one singe sign. Iconography is inconsistent as hell and generic, even it's layout with the rest is different every time. The overall layout of the signs is way too crowded and quite unpleasant, there's not enough space around which makes it quite confusing.

    However, it's really cool to see a serious graphic design project on Dezeen!