The life and work of Margaret Calvert

A new display at the Design Museum is looking back at some of Margaret Calvert’s most enduring designs. Here, we speak to frequent collaborator 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 most impact on our daily lives in the UK goes unnoticed by the majority of the population – but therein lies the beauty of Margaret Calvert’s designs. Subtlety is central to much of the graphic designer’s work, which has seen her spend the last six decades simplifying our muddled transport networks with clear and concise wayfinding systems.

Originally from South Africa, Calvert first came to UK as a student. Since graphic design didn’t yet exist as its own educational discipline, she specialised in illustration and printmaking at Chelsea College of Art, graduating 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 job led to a longstanding partnership that saw them collaborate on everything from the wayfinding for the newly unveiled Gatwick Airport to signage on British Rail’s entire network.

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

Fast forward half a century, and it’s unsurprising that Calvert has both an RDI and an OBE for services to typography and road safety under her belt. In its new display, London’s Design Museum is looking back at Calvert’s expansive bank of work and fascinating creative process, much of which is still done by hand, offering an insight into how she has helped shape modern information design and British identity.