Some drivers have no idea how the current traffic signs originated, let alone understand the full or correct meanings.  This blog is about the history and value to drivers, if they choose to look for them, so they can understand what is in store for them over the next few hundred meters or so.

Back in the fifties traffic signs were scant, mainly black on white and were a crash waiting to happen.  Even the direction boards were non reflective and difficult to see and read, especially in inclement weather or poor light conditions.

However, post war saw a revolution both in design and layout to the UK’s traffic signs, when a British typographer and Graphic Designer called Richard ‘Jock’ Kinneir set about resolving this issue. Very quickly he realised this was a bigger job than anticipated and he recruited a student graphic designer, Margaret Calvert, together they redesigned everything, albeit their brief from the Department of Transport was not to re-invent the wheel, which they eventually went on to do with traffic signs!

Those designs were all hand made in the beginning by both Kinneir and Calvert by cutting out white paper and sticking them on to coloured backgrounds. They carried out experiments with RAF personnel at RAF Benson where signs were placed on a moving car and the personnel were asked to indicate how far away they could read the sign. This experiment was shown in a documentary about the Victoria & Albert Museum which is now available on YouTube.

Through these experiments it was realised that the spacing of letters was very important, so they made the space bigger with upper case for first letters and lower case for the rest in a particular word. That format turned into a type font called Transport, (a Sans Serif typeface) which was designed between 1957 and 1963 and is still in use today. Indeed, one of the very early signs designed by Kinneir and Calvert of Trunk Road sign of a roundabout giving directions to Nottingham, has now been donated to the V & A Museum.  These signs have been in use for over six decades and are still as fresh today as they ever were, albeit drivers still fail to understand the correct meanings of many of them, which could be something for continued driver education to resolve.



Accessed on line (Google) 281120

Secrets of the Museum – Series 1 Ep 4 BBC Documentary 2020 – Accessed on line 281120