26 November 2014

Roadsignarp750pix

In 1957 the Ministry of Transport appointed an Advisory Committee on Traffic Signs for Motorways, tasked with developing a new system of road signage for implementation across the UK. Two graphic designers, Jock Kinnear and Margaret Calvert were hired to create a new typeface for the road signs. They spent the next two years researching, designing and testing for a font that would be legible in poor visibility, extreme weather, and moving at speed.

They developed Transport, a sans serif typeface with supreme readability. Elegantly rounded and handsomely legible, Transport was rolled out across the UK’s roadways in the early 1960s and has been replicated across dozens of countries ever since. It proliferates into the lives of millions of people worldwide every day, unassumingly easing motion. We encounter it on a daily basis but may never have paid it any mind. Part of the charm of typeface is its ability to hide in plain sight. The text is the thing but the typeface sets the tone. Transport is open, direct, quaint. We trust it. 

Calvert’s original hand-drawn designs for Transport are kept in St Bride Foundation, an old print house and one of London’s silent treasures. Situated just off Fleet Street in what used to be the heart of the UK’s newspaper industry, Kinnear and Calvert’s Transport typeface sits comfortably among an assortment of other typographical wonders held there: a Caxton bible, a vellum-bound edition of The Canterbury Tales from William Morris’s Kelmscott Press. If there is such a thing as an assured place in the History of Fonts, Transport has it.

In 2012 Margaret Calvert, with the aid of Henrik Kubel, developed New Transport, a redesigned version of the original Transport typeface. It was adopted by the United Kingdom’s GOV.UK website for use on all of its pages. Appropriately the font now services not only our public highways but our information superhighways, still aiding legibility albeit in a completely different medium than anybody could have guessed in 1957.

---------------

You can read more from Jamie on his website or on twitter.

Our latest exhibition Type Motion features over 240 outstanding examples of text and typography used alongside the moving image. Click here for more information.