Margaret Calvert

Margaret Calvert

Margaret Calvert is a popular South African-born, British graphic designer and typographer. She is recognized for her collaboration with Jock Kinneir designing many road signs spread throughout United Kingdom. She provided signing programmes for British rail, motorways, airports authority and the all-purpose roads among other things. Besides, she also served as a part-time teacher between 1961 and 2001, at the Royal College of Art.

Born in 1936, Margaret Calvert spent her earlier years in South Africa. At the age of fourteen, her family moved to England. During 1950s she attended Chelsea College of Art where she took up a four-year course in illustration. Calvert proved to have exceptional illustrating skills that impressed her teachers, albeit she was not quite fond of the subject. What she aspired to be was a designer but the field of graphic designing was not yet introduced. While learning illustration, she also studied commercial art as part of the course. According to Calvert, they were instructed to simply concentrate on just the idea not to incorporate the typography or lettering while designing a poster. One of her professors Schleger, dissuaded their class from learning typography believing they were too old for the task.

As luck would have it, Jock Kinnear, an outstanding graphic designer, mentored Calvert at Chelsea when Schleger left. Calvert’s skills flourished under his supervision. Soon, Kinneir received a prestigious project of designing the signs for Gatwick Airport. Calvert had attended her finals when he requested her assistance on the project. Design was not something that she had opportunity to attempt before. As she continued to work at Kinneir’s office in Knightsbridge, she developed considerable interest in lettering. Being commissioned by clients, such as the Milk Marketing Board and P&O, sharpened her skills. The Anderson Committee commissioned their firm to design a road sign system for the new motorways. The signs were to be designed for driver’s guidance, hence were supposed to deliver concise information that could be read at speed.

Working together, they developed a typeface, Transport that displayed both upper and lower-case sans-serif lettering. Notwithstanding the fact that their sign system had full support of the Anderson Committee, Colin Forbes and modernist Herbert Spencer, it was heavily attacked by the traditionalists. Eventually, the road signs were placed on the Preston Bypass for testing, in 1958. Subsequently, the British government formed the Worboys Committee. Sir Walter Worboys was designated the chairman of the committee who was assigned the task of reviewing the entire network of road signs throughout Britain. Their firm had been renamed as Kinneir Calvert and Associates by the time the review committee produced the report and put it into effect.

Calvert also created easy-to-understand pictograms based on pre-existing European warning signs. These pictorial instructions for road users included the signs for crossing of livestock animals that was modeled after Patience and schoolchildren nearby was depicted through a girl leading a boy by hand. Over the decades the sign system has been modified in accordance with the road users’ needs. However, Calvert and Kinneir’s design is still at its core. In addition to designing road sign system, Calvert has also developed commercial fonts for Monotype. In 1980, for the Tyne and Wear Metro system, she designed a font after her own name. Calvert and Kinneir’s creation, the New Transport typeface is currently in use by the single domain GOV.UK website. In 2004, the University of the Arts London conferred the honorary degree upon her.


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