Margaret Calvert on work and play over 60 years in graphic design

South African-born graphic designer Margaret Calvert, OBE is best known for the signs she helped design for Britain's roads. You can now watch her full talk.

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Margeret Calvert, who was born in South Africa, came back to present at Design Indaba Conference 2016. One of a handful of speakers to trend during her talk on Twitter (and one of even fewer to not have a Twitter handle of her own), Calvert captivated the audience with her dry sense of humour, her humility and a colourful journey through her immense body of work.

“I think basically, I’ve always been an amateur,” says Calvert. Of course, we disagree.

On 10 June 2016, at 80 years old, Margaret Calvert was awarded an OBE for her services to typography, graphic design and road safety. Amongst her best-known work is her eponymous typeface Calvert, the Rail Alphabet typeface for British Rail and the colour scheme for Gatwick Airport’s signage.

Calvert’s Design Indaba presentation centred on the theme of work and play: “work” being jobs that were for money and “play” for the personal projects, exhibitions and experiments.

“I’m somebody who actually enjoys working with something in my hand, and this goes back to being a child and always wanting to draw, always using coloured pencils. I have to do that first – then ideas come and I work them through. Bit of paint, bit of mess,” says Calvert.

Calvert shared some of her early work, including the road signs she completed with her colleage Jock Kinnier in the 1960s. These signs are still used around the UK today.

“I get credit for doing everything. I didn’t,” says Calvert, complimenting the other members of the design team who worked on the project.

Calvert shows a lot of hand drawn images, which reveal the low-tech, hand crafted process behind her work.  

“I always do it like that; it’s not how you should do it. But if I can give anybody any advice – you do it your way,” says Calvert. “We’re not artists really, we’re all a mixture of everything.”