The motorway and the modern road sign
We’ve all reckoned with the hell that is the motorway.
Now imagine being on the M25 without clear road signs guiding you.
Sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn’t it?
Fortunately, some bright spark had the forethought to do something about it after design magazine Typographica published not one, but two essays condemning the terrible nature of British road signs.
With it being clear that an overhaul was needed as the motorway came into being, government ministers hired London-based designers Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert to design and standardise a new signage system for our roads.
Kinneir was the perfect choice for this, having created the signage for Gatwick Airport just a few years previously. Calvert, hired by Kinneir to work on the project with him, was ultimately responsible for the pictograms that we see in these signs every day – including the ‘men at work’ and ‘farm animals’ signs.
Only two factors were specified in the brief for our sign system – what does a driver need to know while travelling at speed, and at what distance do they need to know it? Functionality was emphasised over style.
Together they tested reading distance, looking at clarity, letter spacing and type facing using methods that were unheard of at the time.
The results were obviously successful – the system that Kinneir and Calvert produced is still in use today and their designs have endured as some of the most classic in history. They have been keeping us safe and informed on Britain’s ever-busier roads for more than fifty years.
With such a timeless system in place we can’t imagine this changing any time soon!