The Road to Everywhere

British Road Signs - 50th Anniversary

Before the introduction of the motorway system in Britain, signage was inconsistent and often overlooked and ineffective. The birth of standardisation in modern British road signs began with cycling clubs erecting their own warnings. With the advent of the motoring age, standardisation was piecemeal until the early 60s when it was perfected by typographers and graphic designers Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert. The work they did on creating a coherent visual language could not be improved, and has been in use (and repeated in other countries) for the last fifty years.

Information Architects Design Classics

Jock and Margaret became involved in the development of a British road signage system when the first motorway — the M1 — was being built in 1957. Simple, effective and engaging, their designs were adopted countrywide from 1965.

In order to work and to stand the test of time, the designers developed a whole system of communication that could be immediately understood by motorists. New fonts — Transport and Motorway — were developed to convey a harmonious message. Upper case letters were deemed unfriendly to the British eye, so lower case was used.

Pictograms — as with Queues Likely above — were created to convey information to the driver. Colour combinations were introduced to delineate types of road. The sign below shows primary routes, which are always yellow on green.

Thanks to their work we can now jump in our cars and take the road to everywhere.

Design Museum Exhibition

The work of Jock and Margaret is currently being exhibited at the Design Museum in London as part of the British Road Sign Project. The exhibition includes reinterpretations of the classic signs by designers. The jazzy numbers below are by Sir Peter Blake.


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