Margaret Calvert: “I would have worked for nothing”

Last week, British road and motorway signage icon Margaret Calvert spoke at a D&AD lecture – we’ve put together some key pieces of insight to take away from the talk about her wide-spanning career.

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Margaret Calvert receiving the D&AD 2014/15 President’s Award

Margaret Calvert, the co-creator of the British road and motorway signage system we know today, is easily one of the most influential graphic designers of our era.

Having revolutionised transport design alongside the late Jock Kinneir in the 1950s and 1960s, her achievements didn’t stop there – other triumphs include her work for British Rail, Gatwick Airport and multiple hospitals, a stint as head of graphic design at the RCA, and her very own “Calvert” typeface used by designers worldwide today.

Last week, D&AD held a President’s Lecture, which saw Calvert speak about her career spanning seven decades. We’ve put together some key pieces of insight from the talk, which shed light on her ways and joys of working, and her inspirations.

On the balance of work and play

“My desk is my comfort zone.”

“Work is what you get paid for, so you’ve got to be responsible with what you’re doing and get it right. Play, on the other hand, is what you’re not paid for. You can break all the rules when you’re not doing anything serious.”

On her way of working

“I constantly like to scribble things down and make notes for myself – that’s how I work.”

“My way of working is that I have to have a system. I can’t mess about or doodle until I’ve had initial ideas and thoughts – that’s when the door opens.”

“Creating small paintings and drawings, like stamps, are some of my favourite things to design.”

On the thrill of the job

“When I created the signage for Gatwick Airport, you had to do all the signage yourself by hand. Seeing your work out there, on baggage tags, is really exciting.”

On teaching

“The students’ work is so much more important than yours when you’re in a teaching role – you have to put your own work on the back burner.”

On collaborating

“Working with another designer on a project is a bit like a three-legged race. And it’s so open, you almost have to write your own brief.”

On her inspiration

“Thomas Heatherwick is one of my heroes. I love his modesty, he’s so humble about his work – and my favourite seat on the Routemaster bus is the front of the top deck.”

On the love of her job

“I was asked to be the [type and pictogram] consultant for the Moscow Metro’s new signage – I would have done it for nothing.”


Discover more:

• 50 years of Calvert & Kinneir’s road signs

• D&AD Awards 2015 – the design winners

• UK consultancies work on new wayfinding for Moscow public transport

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