27.06.2017

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We were asked, along with 49 other designers and artists, to create an homage to the great British road sign - to mark the 50th anniversary of the scheme, in an exhibition at London's Design Museum.

We had already come up with a different concept for the road signs, using the metaphor of animals.

So we turned our attention to the vexed issue of the pavement that runs alongside the roads. Does the pavement need signs to help protect pedestrians?

Intruders

Roads and pavements share the public space. A pavement never ends, it links invisibly across a road, a fact only very rarely made physical by things like zebra crossings. In some, preciously rare, instances the powers that be continue street paving over a road to make the links literal.

Using surfaces to show drivers that part of the road is shared, with vulnerable pedestrians.
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The fact that pedestrians have to share the invisible links escapes car drivers entirely. They see only the road. Blind to the invisible links. The road is all there is, their road. Which they want to drive on without impediment. As fast as possible.v

People driving want to drive. They don't want to slow down, least of all stop, for a second longer than is absolutely legally necessary. People climbing into a car, or swinging their leg over a bike, are possessed by the Spirit of Velocity from the Vorticist era, a Spirit that glories in speed, and the invulnerability of gleaming metal. Pedestrians are intruding.

The passion in what I write here is because I don't drive. I walk. I am a life-long pedestrian. All my time is spend on pavements and crossing roads, dodging cars, and increasingly cyclists.

Our first sign, to protect pedestrians: urging cars not to jump red lights, or put another way, urging cars not to put pedestrians at risk when it is their turn to use the shared space.

Cars regularly ignore the lights on Walworth Road.
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The new threat

What happened with cyclists? There are a few, often on Boris bikes, wobbling about, new to the area, unsure of where to go, cycling at a gentle let-me-see-where-am-I kind of speed. But there is a new breed, I first encountered in Amsterdam. The hardened, hurtling, I-ain't-stopping cyclist, often on a racing cycle. This kind scream at pedestrians. I'd understand it if the screams came when pedestrians were dithering on the road in the way of cyclists who had right of way, but I have been screamed at crossing lights that were green for me, as cyclists whizzed through red lights, and, most alarmingly, walking on the pavement.

Speeding along a pavement on a steel vehicle.
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Zombiefication

Signs have gone up in Stockholm, warning pedestrians of a new threat, pedestrians using their smart phones whilst walking. A year or so ago, several accidents were reported caused by people so absorbed by playing Pokémon Go they stepped out into speeding traffic.

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After we make the pavements safe by stopping cars jumping red lights, and encouraging cyclists to use only the roads, we have a new risk to mitigate: the zombie phone user.

We suggest signs placed low down, the only sliver of the phone-user's vision not filled by the phone screen.

Smart phones make us dumb - waking as if in a digital dreamworld.
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Celebratory exhibition at London's Design Museum.
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We have produced a series of design ruminations and thoughts on the fifty year-old British road sign system; possibly the most important graphic design project in the world. The posts are:

FOLLOWING AESOP
A reimagining of the signs in animal form.

MIXING MEANINGS
Playing with what the signs can mean.

TROUBLE SHARING
Our designs for a celebratory exhibition at the Design Museum.

20.06.2017

Today sees the issue of our Windmill & Watermill stamps for the Royal Mail. It is the culmination of months of work and a fair bit of traveling around the UK by our commissioned photographer Phil Sayer. Here are some of his images that capture 'venerable' buildings nestling in the British landscape.

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The design of the mills are a consequence of the prevailing weather and geological conditions; the sails of a windmill will not turn without a good supply of wind and a waterwheel will not turn without a steady flow of water. It is not surprising then that windmills are often landmarks on the local skyline while watermills can be found nestling high up in hilltop valleys where the water force is manageable. Our original thoughts for the stamps were to reflect the mills' natural relationship with the land.

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William Morris was a founder of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). His 1877 manifesto called for the protection of ancient buildings so that they could be handed down "...instructive and venerable to those that come after us."

During our mill visits it began to seem like Morris' ideas were seeping into our work. As the project developed we really fell for the ingenuity of each mill; the architecture dictated by location, the harnessing of power dependent on nature, and the use of force cleverly diverted into some repetitive mechanised task.

This deceptively simple technology remains 'instructive and venerable' as Morris described it 140 years ago — and it becomes more prescient as we struggle to resolve the challenges of climate change.

See the stamps: Instructive & Venerable

Ian Chilvers

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