South African-born British typographer and graphic designer Margaret Calvert designed many of the road signs used throughout the United Kingdom with colleague Jock Kinneir. She also designed the Transport font used on road signs and the Rail Alphabet font used on the British railway system. The typeface developed by Calvert and Kinneir was further developed into New Transport and used for the single domain GOV.UK website in the United Kingdom.
Calvert moved from South Africa to England in 1950 with her mother, sister and dog and studied at the Chelsea College of Art. Kinneir was her part-time tutor there and asked her to help him design the signs for Gatwick Airport, where they chose the black on yellow scheme for the signs after researching the most effective combination.
In 1957, Kinneir was appointed graphic design consultant to the Anderson Committee, followed by the Worboys’ Committee, by the UK government. He appointed Calvert as his design assistant and worked with her to redesign the road sign system and she came up with simple, easy-to-understand pictograms, including the signs for “men at work”, “farm animals”, and “schoolchildren nearby”, based on pre-existing European road signs.
Calvert drew most of the pictograms in the friendly, curvaceous style of Transport. Many of her illustrations were inspired by aspects of her own life. The cow featured in the triangular sign was based on Patience, a cow on her relatives’ Warwickshire farm. Eager to make the school children crossing sign more accessible, she replaced the image of a boy in a school cap leading a little girl, with one of a girl – modelled on a photograph of herself as a child – with a younger boy.
In addition to her road signs, Calvert has designed commercial fonts for Monotype, including the eponymous Calvert font, which she created in 1980 for use on the Tyne and Wear Metro system. She was awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the University of the Arts London in 2004, and has a Senior Fellowship from the Royal College of Art. She also has an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Brighton and will soon be receiving one from the RCA.
Calvert was also a speaker at the 2013 AGI Open conference held in London and her work was featured and reinterpreted in MADE NORTH’s ’50th Anniversary of the British Road Sign’ installation at the London Design Museums and London Design Festival 2015.