In the 1970s Calvert and Kinneir were commissioned to devise a visual identity for the French new town, St-Quentin-en-Yvelines. Calvert designed a slab serif font, which was not used here but taken up by the Tyne and Wear Metro. Named Calvert after its designer, this font is still in use in the Newcastle / Tyne and Wear transport network. There then followed fonts for British Railways – Rail Alphabet and more recently for Network Rail – Rail Alphabet 2.
Standing by a motorway sign in the exhibition, rather than viewing it at speed from the driving seat, reveals just how big it is. It perfectly shows the ways in which a designer is integral to the whole development and engineering team plus illustrates the detailed research involved, not just in graphics but also in the wayfinding. For Calvert this is especially so in her designs for the Newcastle Metro and Network Rail. The confines of a railway station concourse, with hundreds of mingling passengers wanting to get to different places, prove to be complex in design and psychological problems. Placing signage at the right height, with imagery suitable for a crowd not all speaking the same language, highlights the importance of imparting clear information through words and symbols.
In many ways Calvert’s pictograms look like precursors to emojis. Symbols for a taxi, bus and ticket machine have become universal across the world and probably emanated from Calvert’s studio. Over time signs need to be updated and Calvert’s pictograms continue to evolve as the actual object changes and new ones arrive – a 1960s black London taxi has had numerous incarnations and a vape pipe is a new addition.
The exhibition includes documents and photographs, film footage of the research stages and signage in prototype development. There are numerous manuals for the various corporate companies on the rules of how and where to place the signage; point size; weight of font; when to italicise; appropriate colours; and how to place a pictogram, all to enforce a common identity across a network.
Kinnear died in 1994, and now in her mid 80s Calvert continues to design, collaborating with other designers including Henrik Kubel. She still hand draws everything and these collaborations have brought her work into the digital arena. A variation of the Transport font was designed for the UK government in 2012 and is the face of .gov.uk websites.