Helen Kearney

History of Design



Title of Dissertation: Getting Lost – Environmental lettering, signage and ‘Supergraphics’ Britain, 1944–1965

In 1961, the graphic designer Robert Brownjohn, writing about lettering on buildings, signage and advertising – typography that has a relationship with architecture – stated:

‘...The fact is that we begin to see our cityscape not so much as architecture as three-dimensional typography.’

My dissertation looks at the practices of graphic design and architecture in Britain 1944–1965, investigating three instances in which large, brash, colourful lettering and graphic design made striking, obtrusive statements in the environment. Through this lens, I consider how architects and graphic designers theorised their surroundings – how space was comprehended, how environments were ‘read’, and how design should react to this.

My case studies are the illustrations of the town planner and sketch artist Gordon Cullen for the Architectural Review, the typographer Edward Wright’s lettering mural for an exhibition building in 1961, and Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert’s designs for road signage across Britain. Archival material is analysed in detail in order to revise the historical approach to this subject matter, and to construct a reading of the material that stresses – like Brownjohn, quoted above – that the environment was read through graphic statements.



Supported by: Matthew Wrightson Charitable Trust

'Men at Work' Road Sign, designed by Margaret Calvert for the Worboys Committee, 1963



BA (Oxon), Ancient and Modern History, Oxford University, 2007