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British Rail Design, 1986
Danish Design Council’s Case Book Series on the design of British Rail.
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The following are excepts from the Danish Design Council’s Case Book on the design for British Rail. If you enjoy articles like this, and would like to support the project, subscribe to Logo Histories.
An International Example
British Railways have made design-history more than once. First, they invented the thing and developed it into a system. Robert Stephenson gave train and track their basic shape. Isambard Kingdom Brunel conceived and built the Great Western Railway as an entity including trains, tunnels, bridges, buildings and steam-boats. In the beginning of this century, Frank Pick shaped London Transport into what it still is: The prototype of total public design and an example to be followed ever since.
In the sixties, British Railways Board embarked upon the process of revitalizing the national railway system and giving it a modern face. At that time railways were losing business, and the re-design of British Rail was a pioneering effort to restore the image of rail transport.
The impact of British Rail Design was immediate, and an encouragement to all those in the international railway community who wanted to improve their ware. British Rail became the leader of a new wave in public design. During the following decade it hit first The Netherlands, then Denmark, Austria, France, Federal Germany, Norway and Switzerland where the national railways followed the British example.
All the way, British Rail was the guiding spirit and midwife in the creation of better design standards in public trans-port. What British Rail began is now going on all over the world. Therefore, we are all indebted to British Rail as an international leader in railway design.
Director of Design
Danish State Railways
This book is about the policy which British Rail, the UK's railways network, adopts towards design. The British Railways Board, the senior management of BR sees good design as central to good business. British Rail Design shows how good design can help BR meet the problems and challenges of its new organizational structure.
Thirty years ago, 20 per cent of Britain's passenger kilometres and 50 per cent of her freight tonne kilometres were on rail. Today, the figures are 7 and 11 per cent, even though the market for inland transport has more than doubled. BR has had to reorganize so as to be more responsive to customer demand. In this reorganization, the merits of good design policy are clear.
The late 1980's allow us to make a major updating of our physical apparatus, and in particular of our rolling stock. At the same time, our engineering and catering organizations are now asked to submit tenders competitive to those offered by outside firms. Overall, we are more conscious of market needs; and, having embarked this year on Britain's biggest investment programme since 1955, we can demand the best of our suppliers. These various factors have pushed design to the centre of our freshly significant marketing strategy.
The Design Panel of the British Railways Board was set up in 1956. The Panel has always counted distinguished independent experts in design among its membership. In the future its tasks promise to be more important than ever.
This book will help all railway managers meet the new challenges.
Joint Managing Director (Railways),
Member of British Railways Board.
In November 1964, the British Railways Board agreed a series of proposals on corporate identity for its whole operation. The idea was to visually tie British Rail together as one company and to project a new image. The proposals, which were made by the Corporate Identity Steering Committee of BR's Design Panel, covered a new symbol, namestyle and alphabet, plus a schedule for their introduction. Early priorities for change were advertising and printed publicity.
The new scheme was publicly unveiled at the opening of a special exhibition at the Design Centre, London, in January 1965. It quickly established itself as a metaphor for the concurrent modernization of BR. Later the same year a Corporate Identity Manual for staff applying the scheme was published; it was drawn up by the independent consultants Design Research Unit (DRU). This manual, which at one time ran to four separate volumes, forms the basic plan of campaign in the graphics of BR.
The manual defines BR's symbol, logotype, lettering and colours, and gives detailed directions about their use in everything from brochures and timetables to signposting and station fascias. Users of the manual are given regular help by the Corporate Identity Steering Committee. It is vital to note, though, that use of the manual must be flexible. Independent reports by the designers Pentagram and Herbert Spencer have recently confirmed that the basic graphic scheme is sound; but new move to management by sector, Freight, Parcels, InterCity, Provincial, London & South East, is just one of the continual changes which make it sensible for BR to apply its corporate identity flexibly. Flexibly, but with added vigour.
In the graphic design of corporate identity, what are known as corporate symbols enjoy a special place. BR's symbol, designed by Design Research Unit, has arrows in it, if you care to find them there; but it has a wider integrity too. As well as motion, the symbol connotes reliability.
When the decision to introduce a new symbol was made it was discussed whether a new symbol would be recognized by the public or just add to the visual confusion generated by thousands of companies introducing abstract symbols for their businesses.
Two years after the introduction of the new British Rail symbol, it had already achieved one of the highest recognition values in Britain, to match that of the Michelin man and other symbols which had been with us for a generation or more.
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The British Rail Alphabet
Jock Kinneir, the man who designed the British Rail Alphabet, has seen it adopted widely. Denmark's and Norway's state railway systems use it, and, in a different context, the British Airports Authority has adopted it, as has Australia's. Why? Because, as alphabets go, it is based on the sound ergonomic principles of maximum legibility. Kinneir's tests, performed at the Road Research Laboratory, determined that letters with an x-height of 55 mm could be read at more than 40 metres. What was more, Kinneir showed, such letters could be put on flap-type displays of 990 x 113 mm for the station names and information displays on station indicators.
Kinneir is one of a special generation of British graphic designers. He trained in the late 1930's and went on to create much of the nation's graphic dynamism in the 1960's. His road alphabet upheld the new motorways of Britain as landmarks of modern sign-posting.
The way that signs are produced is as important as the style of lettering used. Gloss black lettering on a matt or satin white background produces the best results under most lighting conditions.
BR signs are usually made from stove-enamelled aluminium sheet. A clear matt lacquer finish reduces glare and assists legibility. We are computerising our letterforms to make certain that the British Rail Alphabet is adhered to.
The Corporate Identity Manual is supplemented by more than 1.000 separate Information Sheets. While the pages of the manual provide general design guidance, the information sheets deal in detail with how to apply that guidance practically. Information Sheets are also used as the basis for British Rail contracts for the supply of different items.
Information Sheets are also provided to cover the entire range of corporate identity graphic applications i e stationery, passenger information, train notices, operation signals, liveries applications.
Regional architects work to our basic ground rules wherever possible. Any deviation from these ground rules should be cleared by the Board's Design Panel before implementation.
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