Redesigning Age Positivity, One Sign at a Time

Spring Chicken challenges the way society views the ageing population, starting with that road sign, an icon that is showing its age. Tell us what you think.
Red Road signs redesigned by Spring Chicken to challenge the way society views the ageing population in society

Image Credit Springchicken Copyright

Spring Chicken redesigns attitudes to ageing, challenging the outdated notion that the elderly aren’t just as young at heart as the next person. Let’s start with the ‘elderly’ road sign: an everyday icon that is definitely showing its age.

Are older people hazardous? We don't think so. Perhaps the ‘elderly’ are not the best-behaved age group, but we think it's going a step too far to describe them as a hazard. Unless, you take the old-fashioned definition of the word 'hazard' which was more about chance, derived from a medieval French dice game called hasard. We think this is closer to the truth: chance is unpredictable; the elderly are unpredictable; ageing is definitely unpredictable.

But there is a road sign that lines our roads (you know the one). It warns drivers, ‘Beware: elderly people’, and it is grouped amongst the road signs that are designated hazards.

How does it make you feel?

Spring Chicken founder Anna realised that it is easier to change something if you present an alternative. That is what we do with our Spring Chicken products: we provide easier solutions so that people can live more energetic and full lives. We do the same with our articles: we provide articles that promote the sharing of wisdom, of ideas, of memories and stories, all of which bring us joy and make life brighter.

So, Anna called on graphic designers to give them another go. There is a way to tell drivers to slow down, she believes, without suggesting that life is over for older people.

She turned up on the doorstep of her favourite design agency: NB Studio. They were keen to embark on this journey together, and soon after, they created a momentous campaign called The Sign of The Times.

The best tools for the job of giving a sign a redesign? Wit and humour. That is precisely what was called for by The Sign of The Times campaign. Scroll down and see what you think!

Time for a ‘redesign road sign’ competition

Anna, NB Studio and the graphic designers wanted to see road signs that were a little bit cheerier. Over 100 of the world’s best designers were galvanised around the issue and put their ideas forwards. Even Mary Calvert got involved - the typographer and graphic designer who created many of the road signs that are used throughout the UK.

Submissions ranged from quirky to thoughtful, hilarious to respectful. From a group crossing Abbey Road to a couple on skateboards.

Signs that warn, ‘my nan lives near’, and, ‘Danger: older people behaving badly for the next 2 miles’.

Some captured selfie sticks and some captured the party. We also created our very own Spring Chicken road sign, which hangs proudly in our office.

We really did see the lot – incredibly diverse representations of older adults - and we were impressed. It is not that hard, is it?

Sign of the Times - Redesigning the way we look at ageing

Hunched over a walking stick, the icon implies that elderly people are a) dangerous pedestrians and b) all in need of mobility aids. Representation is important to the way older people are viewed in society and the way that they view themselves. Inaccurate stereotypes of older adults affect attitudes toward ageing –which, in turn, contributes to the impact of age discrimination. Namely, social exclusion and poor mental health.

There are laws and policies in place to address ageism. That is a great step. Yet we drive past this sign every day.

And it is condescending.

We certainly think the people in the sign do not compare to Spring Chicken’s customers. For a start, the pair are slowly crossing the road – they do not share the same zest for life as the people we meet daily. Our team are always struck by our readers’ creativity, energy and curiosity.

So, seeing many older adults misrepresented niggles at us. We know that our ageing population is young at heart, but we rarely see this depicted.

Older age desperately needs rebranding and so does the road sign

People are living longer and living better. Look at Mick Jagger. He’s 79 and still as active as ever. Or Billy Connolly, or Judi Dench. Dame Helen Mirren is 77 and still struts down the runway at the L’Oréal Paris Fashion show.

That is exactly why we are age positive at Spring Chicken. We think ageing can be exciting: the travelling, the memories, sharing deep family bonds, and the rest.

Having overheard laments about the outdated imaging of ageing, though, Anna James recognised it to be a sign of the times. One that urgently needed a redesign. So she decided to redesign ageing one sign at a time.

5 of the redesigned red triangular road signs intended by Springchicken to make us rethink the way we look at ageing in society
Springchicken Copyright

Giving age a makeover, road sign by road sign

The original road sign was the winning entry of a children’s contest around four decades ago. It is safe to say that things have changed since the 80s.

Today’s older adults do not think of themselves as old and frail. Anna, wanting to change the image of ageing, envisioned a new sign that would be an accurate reflection, a more balanced depiction, of older people today. One that is representative of ageing people in all their wonderful diversity.

The Road Sign Designers

The whole design industry was inspired to get on board with this project, kindly offering up their thoughts, ideas and protests.

Margaret Calvert

For anyone who's ever been driving on a UK road, the name Margaret Calvert might not ring a bell. However, she is the woman behind some of the most iconic road signs in the country. Working alongside Jock Kinneir, Calvert was responsible for designing everything from motorway signs to roadside information panels.

In total, she designed a variety of different types of signs, each one carefully crafted to be as legible and informative as possible. Thanks to her work, UK road signs are now some of the most recognisable in the world. And next time you're driving, be sure to give a silent thank-you to Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir for making sure you know where you're going.

Roger McGough

Roger McGough is a child of that generation that bought about change, inspired debate and had a desire to create. McGough the voice of Liverpool came to prominence in the Scaffold in the 1960s. Topping the chart with ‘60s classics like Lily The Pink, Thank You Very Much and Dominic Behan’s, Liverpool Lou. In 1967 McGough released his first poetry publication The Mersey Sound to great acclaim. The Mersey Sound showcased McGough's keen eye for the absurd, alongside his rapier wit and enchanting turn of phrase. He was pegged as one of Penguin’s Modern Poets and began to pursue his career as a ‘proper poet’ running with the Liverpool Poets.

McGough kindly lent us the words to ‘Payback Time’ use in our publication addressing his take on ageing and parenting.

Milton Glaser

It's difficult to think of a world without Milton Glaser. He is one of the most iconic graphic designers of our time and has created some of the most famous logos and designs that we see everywhere.

The artist-designer has had a storied career that has included working with some of the biggest names in business and design. His most famous creation might be the I heart New York logo, but his work and influence extend far beyond that one piece.

Bob Gill

The groundbreaking ‘60s designer, illustrator and artist lent his considerable talents to our problem. Gill was one of the designer hell raisers that came out of New York in the ‘50s and ‘60s he went on to form Fletcher/Forbes/ Gill design Agency which later was to shape the British Design firm pentagram.

Gill’s unorthodox approach was highly influential and decades ahead of its time. Gill often quoted that he was never interested in the problem (or the brief) he was only interested in the solution.

George Hardie

If you’re over 40 the odds are that you will own or have owned at least one of George Hardie’s works.

George Hardie was the rock’n’roll graphic designer of choice for most of his hugely productive career. Not because he was in love with rock’n’roll, famously never having owned a record player but because of his ability to produce brilliantly innovative and thought-provoking record covers for everyone from Led Zeppelin to Pink Floyd.

An unlikely rock God, Hardie is now retired but spent the majority of his life teaching and lecturing at the University of Brighton’s Faculty of Art.

Ivan Cermayeff

There's no doubt that Ivan Cermayeff is one of the most iconic and well-recognized designers of the 20th century. His commercial designs have branded corporate identities for over 50 years.

Cermayeff’s use of primary colours and bold shapes in commercial art virtually changed the course of corporate design. Working with industry leaders like Harper Collins, The Smithsonian and PanAm.

Malcolm Garrett

A leading creative force in visualising ‘70s and ‘80s music legends, The Buzzcocks, Duran Duran, Peter Gabriel, Heaven 17, Simple Minds and many more. Garrett’s punk pop passion disregarded traditional ways of seeing for more rebellious and exciting options. A perfect candidate to shake up the views on ‘ageing in society’.

Whilst many of these bands provided the soundtrack to people's teenage years, Garrett's graphic design provided the picture reel. In more recent years he has performed on stage with Heaven 17 providing the visual choreography to compliment the sound and of course the image.

Oliviero Toscani

Oliviero Toscani is a name that is not commonly heard, but his work speaks for itself. He is a world-renowned photographer and designer who has left an indelible mark on the fashion industry.

If you're over 50, there's a good chance you've at least seen one of his creations even if you don't know it. His most famous work was for Benetton, where he used provocative images to push boundaries and start conversations about social issues.

Pearce Marchbank

Pearce Marchbank’s contribution to British graphic design is second to none. Establishing Time Out as one of the most well-known and exciting magazine brands on the high street. His work in publications for Virgin books and his partnerships with everyone from the Beatles to the Sex Pistols are impressive.

Marchbank’s mystical ability to fuse words and images meant he was a perfect designer to really ca[pture the essence of what we wanted to do with the stale ‘old people’ road sign.

Peter Grundy

Peter Grundy revolutionised the infographic world and his influence and work can be witnessed in today's digital world more than ever.

Grundy developed a wholly unique visual language to relate complex and confusing messaging in a simple and easy-to-understand way.

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Sebastian Conran

What do Mothercare pushchairs, Clash posters and social robots have in common? Well, they’ve all been designed by Sebastian Conran.

Sebastian Conran is a designer known for his work in furniture and product design. He's the son of Sir Terence Conran, one of the most influential designers in modern history. Sebastian has carved out his own unique style, which has been exhibited all over the world.

Always one for the next ‘big idea’ Conran embraced our crusade with open arms.

Exhibiting the Sign of The Times

This was not the end of the campaign, though.

The Sign of Our Times sparked a stir in the press. It also grabbed the government’s attention, because we lobbied for change at the Department of Transport. With a widespread response, we were inspired to hold an exhibition in London – displaying every entry for the public to have a look at.

Over four days, we welcomed visitors and presented them with brilliant alternatives to the existing road sign. It was a lot of fun and the momentum was maintained through conversations and debates that are still ongoing.

After the exhibition, we had 100 fantastic road signs in our hands, with no home of their own. We then decided to auction off the road signs, which resulted in raising thousands of pounds for Age UK. This is a charity close to our hearts; they offer help to older people who are living in poverty, or who find themselves without the care/support they need. A worthy cause for a great campaign.

Sometimes it starts with an idea and ends with a road sign

Sometimes that idea can turn into a collaboration, an exhibition, an auction – and it can make a tangible difference to the world we live in.

There are a couple of submissions that we hope might end up as the new road sign on our streets. Which road sign would you like to see replace the existing one?

Or do you think the road sign really is redundant altogether?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. Be the change that you want to see. Join in the conversation!

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