The Sign Game
the RLF makes all kinds of signs; from the gigantic blue walls alongside our motorways to the discreet little markers identifying grave sites in a cemetery. And dozens of others in between.
The big motorway and trunk road signs are made of sheet aluminium, and are either screen-printed or formed of a sandwich of metal, vividly-coloured plastic and perspex, sealed in a machine which looks for all the world like a huge trouser press. Many different companies make these, in addition to sheltered workshops, local authorities' own workshops and at least one prison. The design and quality standards are set down by the Department of Transport, so the only real skill involved is in the pricing of the tender. This kind of work represents eighty percent of the RLF's turnover.
The Association of Road Traffic Sign Manufacturers (ARTSM) met recently to discuss their future, and they discovered that their business was so fragmented that no-one had any idea of the size of the market they shared. One estimate was £18 million, but it was little more than a guess.
On the continent, the picture is quite different, with a couple of giants dominating the scene. If European harmonization were to proceed too far, then the RLF and many others might be like a shoal of minnows in a shark pool.
There is hope, though. In Germany, the size of a sign-post is decided by the class of road, or the importance of the town. An appropriate letter size is then chosen to fit. So, the signposts to EMS and to NEUFELDENKIRCHEN would be the same size, the one carrying three big characters, and the other sixteen little ones.
In this country, we choose the letter-size appropriate to the importance of the road or town, and make the sign big enough to hold the resulting words. It could take the relevant committee several decades to sort a comprimise out of that.