It's not easy to design a road sign. There are whole books of official guidance on the subject. You have to know a wealth of information to get the right colours, designs, layouts, spacing of text, kerning, tracking and weighting of letters. You need to make sure the radius of curves is correct when compared to the stroke width and letter height. You need to be able to work out when patches are needed and when you're allowed to use a flag or a stack-type sign.
Most of the time the resulting sign is correct, and when British road signs are made properly, they can be great pieces of graphic design work.
Unfortunately it doesn't always go right — whether it's bad design or just a lack of proof reading. Sometimes it's the right sign in the wrong place. This gallery documents some truly terrible mistakes on road signs past and present.
Click a photo to see a larger version.
The refurbishment of the toll plaza and surrounding roads at Dartford in the late 1980s called for a whole host of new signs to be erected. Unfortunately this one made the inexplicable mistake of pointing the way to the M24.
There is no M24. If you take the M25 in the direction indicated, there's only the M20 and M23, and both of those are already shown. What on earth was it getting at?
Paul Taylor was Resident Engineer on the project, and had the error overplated very quickly indeed!
Photo by Paul Taylor
The M25 between junctions 11 and 12 opened in 1980. Shortly before it was opened to traffic, we can safely assume that some emergency sign work was carried out. This picture was taken as the road was nearing completion, showing a sign that points the way to Dartford. Or at least it was meant to.
Photo by Mr G.F. Spencer
A much older mistake from 2nd November 1959: as the opening ceremony for the first section of M1 goes on in the background, a cloth has been thrown over this faux pas.
Inexperienced workmen have erected the southbound diverge sign at junction 10 in the hard shoulder. This photograph is from the National Archives and, judging by the correspondence about it, caused acute embarassment in the Ministry of Transport. Its siting couldn't have been worse!
In Devon, all roads lead to Sandford... This pair of wrong-way signs were spotted in Crediton. It's not unusual to see fingerpost signs turned the wrong way, but to see two quite like this is a different matter!
Photo by Colin Price
This sign was erected on the eastbound side of the newly-upgraded A428. It's supposed to be pointing to Histon and Milton. Whoever designed it obviously got confused with Milton Keynes, which is in the other direction completely. It was painted over before the road was even open, and replaced soon afterwards.
As well as pointing the wrong way, it also makes very bad use of space, and has the lower arrow inside the white panel when it should be outside on the green background.
Photo by Clive
This photo was taken on the northbound off-slip from the Coventry Eastern Bypass at the point it becomes the M69. It's a bit of a peculiar design with lots of wasted space, but Ken likes it for a different reason.
"My children were in the car, and when they saw the sign one said '...is that sign to tell Mickey Mouse to turn left?' When you look at it, it looks like Mickey Mouse ears, so ever since it has been known to us as Mickey Mouse Island."
Photo by Ken Hodierne