Blueprint asked a series of designers, artists and architects to redesign the British roadsign. The response was diverse and thought-provoking, challenging the role of the ubiquitous notices and the type of commands we receive.
When was the last time you looked at a road sign? No, really looked? These ubiquitous parts of the urban fabric, order, cajole and inform us what’s going on with a set of icons that we’re so used, we more often than not register them almost subliminally. But have a long look and you’ll notice many of them have aged somewhat, like the man putting up an umbrella in nicely rounded wellies, those two Austin A40s battling it out for road position, or the speed camera that looks as if it would need a glass plate to capture your image as you sped past. So we asked a wide range of designers, architects and illustrators to Look Again at the signs for us. The response has been fantastic and these are just some of the results.
A huge thanks to everyone involved.
You can see more at our stand at 100%Design (22 – 25 September). What’s more hopefully you’ll be inspired to Look Again yourself.
Pete Fowler is an artist and designer. His work has been used by MTV, Greenpeace and the Super Furry Animals.
Bar describes his work as visual communication, using the minimum elements for maximum communication.
The Lindström Effect is Edinburgh-based Iain Bruce and Vala Jónsdóttir. They work in fashion, music and galleries.
Modern Toss is the creation of Mick Bunnage and Jon Link. Their cartoons were televised in 2006.
‘No one likes being told what to do these days, least of all by a pole stuck in the ground with some old-fashioned words stuck on it. By softening the ‘over-directional’ style of pre-Cameron/Clegg command signage and incorporating the raised inflection of modern chat, these signs are designed to create more of a ‘consensus’ between contemporary drivers and the signals they must take into account if they are going to complete a journey more or less alive. The result is a truly modern breakthrough in road safety, designed specifically to grab the fly-like attention span of the people most likely to mow you down while texting about some shit they’ve just seen on Youtube, OK?’
The London-based art and architecture practice works on socially-aware projects in the public realm.
Morrison is a designer of film title sequences, broadcast, commercials and TV branding.
‘Look Again – yes, but there is no need to change them. These symbols or pictographs depict qualities generally associated with the object within the circle or triangle. They are more easily recognised internationally because some prior association already exists in our visual thinking.
What I see is that they are child-like in their design. There is a good reason for that: what we see is in the visual has been born in the need to have a universal visual language understood across all borders, as you see from the plates supplied.
A new, satisfactory sign or signs will require the combined efforts of public and private organisations, industrialists, business, scientists and designers will have to pool their skills to make sure that the symbols of tomorrow properly fit the societies and public needs as a whole.’
Pentagram is a multi-disciplinary design firm with offices in London, New York and Berlin.
Michael Wallis is creative director at CorkeWallis. A branding agency in West London.
‘Road signs will soon be entirely redundant. The new Ford Mondeo already recognises signs and tells you to slow down. What if Groupon was to buy all the road signs from the Government? Groupon delivers timely, location-based special offers to its members. A Groupon road sign would know who and where you were and how fast you were going so it could deliver personalised offers directly to your HUD windscreen.
Here a driver goes flying past – at that speed they are sure to enjoy an extreme sports offer. The car will already have informed the DVLA about the careless driving!’
Tomato was founded in 1991 in London as a collective of artists, designers, musicians and writers.
The London design agency founded in 1998 works in fields ranging from film and digital to graphics.
Founded in 1979, the London-based company has designed for clients such as KFC and Converse.
Founded in 1986, the branding and graphics firm is in Manchester, London and Preston.
‘Is there anything fundamentally wrong with the road signs project that Kinneir+Calvert implemented in 1957 or have the People in Charge simply lost sight of its originality? What has gone terribly wrong is the physical placing and duplication of signs: visual clutter that results in an individual message not getting through to the road user. In much the same way that graphic designers protect their logotypes with‘safe zones’, maybe rules should apply to sign installation. Our sign system was copied by the rest of Europe but it is in serious need of a tweak to stay in front.
Jock Kinneir’s typography spaced the letters in ‘tiles’ based on the capital I. Signs are now produced digitally. Has anyone worked out the visual difference between tiles and pixel-based systems (and the speeds we now drive at)? The newer technology in lighting is also something Jock Kinnear did not have. Apparently those smiley speed awareness signs are making a big impact. So maybe, lighting on signs that is activated by on-coming vehicles could boost road safety on a dark winter afternoon. And those motorway gantry signs: Couldn’t they offer something to make us happy instead of lying about there being animals on the carriageway?’
Triangles, circles and cycles
‘The Highway Code stipulates that warning signs are in triangles and orders in circles. Why? Does anybody really pay more attention to triangular signs than they do circular ones? As far as we can tell all that the triangular format does is restrict the size of the information making it harder to read from a distance.
Regarding cycling: Why should it be that a black cycle icon in a red circle means ‘‘No cycling’ and yet a black cycle icon in a red triangle means‘ ‘Cycle route ahead’? It makes no sense.’
National speed limits
‘This sign can mean the speed limit is either 30, 40, 50, 60, or 70mph. As the selection above illustrates (and this is not all of them), it all depends upon the type of road you are travelling on and the types of vehicle you are travelling in. It is no wonder, therefore, that the majority of drivers when passing a National Speed Limit sign and then spotting a speed camera in the distance have no idea what speed they should be travelling at. There must be a better way.’
National speed limits
‘What if the speed limit for car drivers was clearly indicated within the red circle? The retained diagonal black bar still indicates that is a national speed limit area and those towing would have to know they should do 10mph less than the speed limit on all road types as should coaches and lorries under 7.5tonnes unless travelling on a motorway. Drivers of cars would not have to remember any speed limitations. Drivers towing would only need to remember the one rule as opposed to three separate speed limits. Everybody wins aside from perhaps the speed cameras.’
‘Apparently the original usage of a no entry sign can be traced to Europe when formal shields were used to mark the boundaries of territories. Then when they did not want visitors to enter they would tie a bright red ribbon horizontally around the shield. It is now such a universally recognised sign that it is never likely to change but it does look more like a sign for the post office and we prefer our version.’
This graphic design and branding strategy employs 70 people in London and New York.