The life and work of Margaret Calvert

A new exhibition at the Design Museum looks back on some of Margaret Calvert's most sustainable designs. Here we talk to frequent contributor Henrik Kubel and curator Rachel Hajek about how the designer's work has become synonymous with British identity

There is a certain irony in the fact that the designer, whose work has arguably had the greatest impact on our daily lives in Britain, goes unnoticed by the majority of the population – but therein lies the beauty of Margaret Calvert's designs. Subtlety plays a central role in many of the graphic designer's work. Over the past six decades, it has simplified our disorganized transportation networks with clear and precise routing systems.

Originally from South Africa, Calvert came to the UK as a student. Since graphic design was not yet an educational discipline in its own right, she specialized in illustration and printmaking at the Chelsea College of Art in 1957. Her first job was as an assistant to Jock Kinneir, her former tutor and one of the country's leading graphic designers. The contract resulted in a longstanding partnership in which they worked together on everything from finding directions for the newly unveiled Gatwick Airport to signing the entire British Rail network.

Above: Margaret Calvert's studio, courtesy of the artist; Above: Calvert in the Design Museum in London's new display. Image: Felix Spencer

Half a century fast forward, and it's not surprising that Calvert has both an FEI and an OBE in typography and road safety services. London's Design Museum looks back on Calvert's extensive work and fascinating creative process, much of which is still done by hand, in its new exhibition, and offers an insight into how it has shaped modern information design and British identity.


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