The British Museum has one of the world’s largest collections, displaying over 50,000 artefacts in an exhibition area of over 75,000 square metres. In 2006 the museum undertook a massive upgrade to all maps, wayfinding and signage systems. 

As part of this, I was commissioned to look specifically at the museum’s pictograms, with two key considerations in mind. They had to work together as a whole, so that when they appeared next to one another that they looked harmonious and part of the same family. They also needed to work at vastly different sizes. From only about 12mm on the printed map to a quarter of a metre high on signage.

To achieve this I paid particular attention to the negative spaces around each pictogram. I optically adjusted the amount of black in each pictogram to maintain an even tone across them all. I also made a Python script that measured the percentage of black to white in each pictogram.

The final set of 42 were made into a typeface so that all the different staff and contractors could apply the pictograms using the same borders, spacing and clear space. The name of this typeface is called Sloane after the architect of the original building.

Designed by Betsy with ‘Lucy or Robert’

Maarten Idema III

022 697 1672

Sloane pictograms applied to signage
Standard Wheelchair

It’s a source of amusement to me every time our beloved daughter sees a disabled sign and says, “Look, Daddy, there’s a picture of you.” However, I’m not sure that the usual pictogram is the most flattering likeness I have seen... A trip to The British Museum this week revealed an altogether more pleasing image in use.

 — Tim Rushby
British Museum – Don't touch pictogram
Sloane the pictogram typeface for the British Museum applied to a public toilet in Liverpool
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