In the early 1990’s polytechnics were preparing to become new universities and in my first job in the sign industry I was busy preparing schedules and specifications for branding and wayfinding for amongst others, Kingston University, City of London Poly, University of Humberside and Polytechnic of East London.
My interest in using pictograms for wayfinding was in its infancy and for one of the above clients I was trying to find a nice shower symbol. This was pre-internet and I did nt have access to any of the nice glossy books or digital collections that exist now. My main reference points were the film artwork archives of my employer and the set of symbols provided with their CNC system (the only shower symbol available did nt fit right with the design of the project).
Around this time the SDS (Sign Design Society) was emerging and I had been allowed to go to one of their early meetings where I was introduced to Anthony Williams. Anthony was one of the founding members and the first Chairman of the SDS. He trained as an architect, was a contemporary of Jock Kinneir, and had developed a special interest in signposting and symbols through his work for the DHSS (Department of Health & Social Security). Through his practice, Anthony Williams and Partners, he developed the original HTM 65 sign scheme – Health & Technical Memorandum 65 Signs – standardising signs for the first time across hospitals and health facilities, using Kinneir’s Rail Alphabet, re-named Health Alphabet (the original brown hospital signs). Now semi-retired he was involved in a project at Reading University researching the use of symbols in information design.
Exasperated at a lack of access to information (hard to imagine now !) one of my colleagues suggested I contact Anthony to see if he could help. I plucked up courage and wrote him a letter asking if he could suggest any sources I could look at. About a week later a large brown envelope arrived with a hand written note hoping that the enclosed would be of some use – he had photocopied numerous pages of his research into symbol collections which included showers for me ! Plenty of examples and I remember pouring over them examining the differences in the designs. Twenty years later I still have the original copies which I treasure as part of the library that began to build up through necessity on all aspects of signs and wayfinding.
Shortly after I joined the SDS. At that time you had to submit a paper with your application which went forward for consideration. On the basis of always write about a subject you have experience of, I wrote mine on the challenges of signing the new universities. It turns out Anthony was responsible for vetting the applications and sent me a further hand written note congratulating me on my paper (I still have this too !).