Kinnier and Calvert

Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert are responsible for some of the most important typeface and design decisions to date. While their work may not be widely recognised by us all, if you’re a motorist in the UK or various parts of Europe you’ll be exposed to their work on a daily basis. Kinneir and Calvert are responsible for the typeface Transport, created specifically for motorway signs, hence the name. When cars really started to take off in the fifties, the government were concerned about the number of vehicles on the roads and so decided to create the motorway. The decision was made that Britain’s existing road signs were not adequate for the new high speed highways and so Kinneir and Calvert were assigned the job of creating motorway road signs. The first stage of what was to become the M1 was under construction between London and Yorkshire and a lot of new information needed to be displayed. The whole job of creating a clear and consistent system of road signs that would work for a country that were still getting used to cars and these new speeds, fell onto a man and his former student from Chelsea School of Art.

Kinneir and Calvert completely changed road signs by using a combination of upper and lowercase lettering. Before Jock and Margaret’s decision, all road signs were in block capitals, this was already widely accepted for road signs and so their decision horrified the Department of Transport. The typeface Kinneir and Calvert developed were specifically designed to enable motorists to be able read places names quickly and with as much ease as possible. The duo discovered that word recognition is easiest and fastest when upper and lower case letters are combined, so they flow much like when reading a book. Kinneir and Calvert were also responsible for decisions on colour and the thickness of the typeface to enhance legibility. The agreement that all information displayed by motorway signs had to be legible from 600 feet away meant that Kinneir and Calvert tested all these important factors that went into their typeface and roadway signs. The typeface, Transport, has curved letters to create an easy to read and understand at high speeds font. While the decision to use a combination of lower case and upper case shocked the nation because of this drastic change to roadway signs, the decision was actually an incredibly important one. The main purpose of road signs is to communicate information with drivers who are travelling at high speeds and need to have access to this information as easily as possible. While uppercase lettering tends to communicate IMPORTANCE and DANGER, lowercase lettering is a far more approachable way of communicating information with the viewer as it flows in a more natural way allowing the viewer to recognise the word without reading each letter, unlike BOLD UPPERCASE LETERING.

Another part of the job was creating various symbols that could be easily understood and recognised as warnings for ‘men at work’ or ‘children crossing’ or even the possibility of ‘cows becoming part of the proceedings at any time’. One particular image of two children holding hands crossing the road was based upon an image of Calvert herself. According to Calvert this particular image was a difficult one to create as it had to show an action of two children crossing a road while also aiding as a warning for motorists to be more careful. Calvert also says that this particular sign had to be ‘’caring’’ the road sign before Kinneir and Calvert started their work, presented two children crossing the road separately, this simple decision to make the two children hold hands while crossing the road creates a more caring image of the two children, influencing motorists feelings towards the children. If the road sign presents a feeling of care then the drivers know to be conscious of the danger they could put children in by speeding or driving recklessly. While this change is such a simple detail to the image it does actually change a lot, the image is successful in presenting a caring image of two children together encouraging drivers to be mindful of pedestrians around them especially when approaching school grounds or areas where children are likely to be crossing.


Information from – ‘JUST MY TYPE’ by Simon Garfield. Published in 2010 by Profile Books.




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