I was pleased to see an article on the BBC News website about the brilliance of the design of the UK’s road signs. Minimalist and clutter-free, British road signs are a design triumph.
I often look to transport-related design of all types for inspiration. The reason is because they have to work well. Lives might depend on it. As such, a lot of research goes into them.
In the case of road signs, they have to be clear enough to read when travelling at speed, from a distance. They need to be processed quickly. They must deliver an unambiguous message.
It is not easy. But the the design of road signs almost never changes, and hardly anyone ever complains about them. That is an indication that they have got the design right.
The BBC News article outlines some of the research that took place when the signs were originally designed in the 1960s. It reminded me of the research that took place in the USA more recently, in the development of the Clearview typeface for road signs there. If you are interested in design, those articles make for interesting reading.
It’s not just road signs I like to take inspiration from. If anything, railway design is better. Railway signs may not have to be read at speed, but they still have to convey complicated information with clarity. Often these signs will have to be read by visitors from other countries, making it essential that the signs can be understood by people who might not speak English as their first language.
Earlier this year I read this fantastic article about a book called British Rail Design. It looks brilliant. I would love to get my hands on it, though sadly it seems to be rare and expensive.
Both the road signs and the British Rail Alphabet were designed by Jock Kinneir. But surely the granddaddy of railway graphic design must be Harry Beck, whose work needs no introduction.
Harry Beck designed his original map in his spare time and was paid just five guineas. The iconic British Rail logo was designed by a 21-year-old, Gerald Barney. These are the sorts of facts that make you look at yourself and wonder what you have achieved in life.