Transport was a sans serif typeface created by Jock Kinneir and Margret Calvert for road signs across Britain during the late 1950’s. Before the use of Transport, Britain’s roads were littered with finger signposts, which were an assortment of shapes, sizes and colours. The inconsistencies went across the United Kingdom and caused a lot of frustration and confusion for drivers. The production of motor vehicles was growing and their rising popularity created concerns for the government surrounding road safety.
Branding of the Motorway and modernity
The number of road users grew dramatically forcing the preparation and building work for the first motorways in Britain. With technological and engineering advancements cars were becoming faster and more reliable as well as an iconic product of modernity. Due to this advancement, the environment in which these vehicles were used in had to change. The motorway was created so that large amounts of traffic could flow throughout Britain without going through and disturbing towns.
By avoiding towns it would allow roads to remain straight ensuring the high speeds they were capable of to be maintained. These modern roads and speeds were a new experience for public. Many had only encountered travelling long distances when they travelled via train, now many could experience this luxury within the comfort and privacy of their own vehicle.
Modernity was considered the new way of seeing. It was thought that modern life should be regulated, streamlined and order should be imposed. Function and purpose was a requirement of this new perspective. Without this regulation it was thought there would be chaos, socially as well as literally. For example the frustration on roads from unordered road signs.
Technological advancements and standardisation of design within the motor industry
With speeds of up to seventy miles per hour these fast carriages needed sign systems that differed from the finger posts. Easy and readable signs were extremely important. The encounter of the motorway was totally different to that of the A and B roads. The new speeds and modernized roads changed the way in which people drove as well as how they travelled. The time in which drivers would be able to read signs changed significantly. Previously drivers would have had much longer to read signs however now they would have to decipher information within seconds.
Initially the transport typeface was used on only motorways but eventually rolled out across all roads in the United Kingdom. Due to the rise of traffic on all roads standardizing driver’s behaviour via signage was a way to limit road accidents. The use of mechanical type reflected the ridge rules and system of conformity in which the roads were to be used. These signs enforced a set of official rules and regulations that were later formed into the Highway Code.
Travelling via road and political issues of movement
Initially the motorway was built to deal with the traffics needs, however it was also an attempt to encourage economic growth. A side effect of the government investing into the countries road and rail network was that it increased the masses ease of movement. The paradox in which the government faced was that they preferred the public to remain in one place, however it is their duty to sure the economy is strong, even though it will increase movement. They confronted the fears of people moving around by controlling the laws on speed, which meant they had political control of the roads. Speed was considered a power; therefore limiting the masses pace of mobility limited the power that they potential held.
These limits were followed up by criminal offences issued and the loss of their license and even the threat of imprisonment for not adhering to the laws. This would ensure that all road users would experience the system the same way as well as deter any reckless behaviour.
Monitoring road users behaviour and movements was significantly more difficult compared to those who used the railway. As the car was effectively private it meant that those who used the car were unrestricted when choosing their destination. Therefore by using a car drivers could be a lot more spontaneous with their movements.
The social implications of speed, travel and the railway
The government wanted to introduce modernity via the transport system, both road and railway. This post war era was a perfect time for mass social and cultural change. Many people criticized the government for standardizing the signage as they believed that mimicking European design was going to destroy Britain’s historic national identity however many wished to remove the traces of war time Britain. The new signage design made a visual attempt to distinguish the two eras. Road signs were the ideal place to project the government’s ideologies as they were large, noticeable and something the public had to interact with if they wished to remain mobile.
These signs enforced the government’s concept of reassurance. Consistency and stability was needed after the distress of the war. Consistent meant safe. Consistency implied that there was a logical system and structure in place therefore it should limit the things that could go wrong. The roads signs were an obvious and consistent reminder of safety for the road user as well as reassuring Britain’s future.
Economy, travel and Britain’s transport network
The standards being imposed on the public were not blatantly obvious. The new road signs were becoming part of Britain’s landscape that could unconsciously influence people’s behaviour. The aim of these signs was, to be understood but not seen, that their purpose was to give directions and understanding them would be second nature. The unornamented type choice was intentional. By limiting distractions to the driver it would was reduce road traffic accidents.
The standards were also put in place largely due to the need for consistency in trade. Standardising time and mapping space allowed capitalism to prosper. Standardisation of the road signs allowed the increasing traffic, to flow easily meaning that travel times became shorter. Transportation of consumer goods could go from manufacture to shop displays quicker and therefore sell faster.
With the growth of the car industry in Britain, it meant an increase in labour employment in factories. Cars were slowly becoming an item that each household had due to the positive economy and the consistent employment. Even though the car was becoming an everyday item, cars were marketed as a luxury product. The car was changing from an item that was created for mobility and ease of transport, to an aspirational need. Social classes may have been diminishing but clarifying your wealth status via the car you drove was increasing.
The car became a desirable object due to the way it transformed travelling. Travelling by train was becoming increasingly unpopular due to the unreliability of the railway system. In contrast to the railway a car allowed the public to take direct routes to their destinations, such as commuting to work. Using the car also removed the anxiety of being late or the worry of personal safety that the railway caused.
A road sign near Bristol, England – Transport typeface.