Signs Signs Everywhere a Sign
September 16, 2015 9:43 PM   Subscribe

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the launch of the "British Road Sign Project" to standardize the 'chaotic and confusing' signage that existed on British motorways*, London's Design Museum and the Made North Gallery recruited leading artists and designers to transform the familiar circle, triangle and square signs... in ways that are often anything BUT standardized, but sometimes eerily familiar.
*resulting in many designs that are now considered standard well beyond the British Isles
posted by oneswellfoop (7 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
My favorite (via jessamyn)
posted by not_on_display at 9:59 PM on September 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yes, one of those signs has J.G. Ballard quotes on it.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:05 PM on September 16, 2015

I find it interesting to note that the standardization efforts in the UK were just one many which were happening concurrently in different countries around the same time. Look at this list of public transportation typefaces for example - representing the UK we have Transport and Motorway, in Norway we have Frutiger, in the United states there is Highway Gothic. All of these achieve the strange combination of being obscure to the general public - and immediately evocative of a particular place. Those countries which did not develop their own signage system have often adopted one of the more widespread standards - and this can reveal a lot about the relationship between adopter and adoptee.
posted by rongorongo at 12:06 AM on September 17, 2015 [4 favorites]

Thanks for these links, oneswellfoop. There are some interesting details in Margaret Calvert’s essay at the same site:
Sir Colin Anderson […] approached Jock on behalf of the Committee, with a completely open brief, apart from the request to use white lowercase lettering on a blue background, in line with Germany. (Sir Hugh Casson, Chairman of the Fine Arts Commission, had a strong preference for green – ‘as dark as old dinner jackets’ – and it became the ultimate choice for primary ‘A’ routes).
Jock received the following letter from Sir Colin: ‘I am anxious you shouldn’t embark upon inventing an alphabet of a character quite “new”. We have, as a committee, got into the habit of accepting the general weight and appearance of the German alphabet as being the sort of thing we need! […] A request which we chose to ignore – believing that the German Sans serif (designed by an engineer), although demonstrably effective, would not sit well in the English landscape.
posted by misteraitch at 2:32 AM on September 17, 2015

Kinneir and Calvert went on to do the British Rail rebranding, including developing Rail Alphabet, the typeface used on British Rail signage (and also NHS hospital signage); Denmark ended up using it on their rail signage as well. There is a commercial version, which is rather expensive given that the typeface family is all but indistinguishable from Helvetica (the main difference is a slightly higher X-height, IIRC).
posted by acb at 3:39 AM on September 17, 2015

We didn't fight a war in order to have bloody German typefaces goose-stepping across our green and pleasant land, thank you very much.
posted by Segundus at 5:46 AM on September 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

in the United states there is Highway Gothic.

My favorite genre fiction.
posted by traveler_ at 5:36 PM on September 17, 2015

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