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The iconic British Rail Corporate Identity Manual is back on track


t is more than obvious that crowd-funding has become the typophile’s secret weapon of choice to resurrect and bring back from oblivion any design book that deserves our attention. “This, to us, is true for any design book that appeals to a niche audience reachable online—whether the book is about architecture, fashion, product design, or graphic design; and whether about graphic design broadly or, for example, typography more narrowly” writes Designers & Books’ Steve Kroeter. “Notable examples of this from the past few years include Frank Chimero’s The Shape of Design, which received $112,159 from 2,109 backers in 2011 and Dhiru Thadani raised $35,197 from 117 backers for Visions of Seaside, which went on to become a Designers & Books Notable Design Book of the Year for 2013. Most recently—and most remarkably—over 30 days last fall, two Pentagram designers, Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth, attracted 6,718 backers and $802,813 with their Kickstarter project to reissue (Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda’s classic) The New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual as a full-size book. The idea that a book could attract over 6,000 backers in 30 days was a revelation” he added. His own Kickstarter campaign to fund a “lost milestone” of modern graphic design by the father of information graphics, Ladislav Sutnar’s 1961 classic, Visual Design in Action was an absolute hit.

NYCTA’s Graphics Standards Manual

Following NASA’s physical copies of its 1975 standards reissue, the British Rail identity is getting a similar treatment. “Leaves on the lines, the wrong kind of snow, and soggy stale sandwiches never really helped British Rail become a brand that was truly loved by the nation. Yet, in 2011 the readers of Creative Review voted British Rail’s ‘double arrow’ as their sixth favorite logo” writes graphic designer Wallace Henning on his project, a tome of pure British nostalgia composed of the exact content from all four original volumes.

NASA’s Design Manual

“The symbol, created by Gerry Barney at Design Research Unit, has endured beyond its origins and has become a shorthand for Britain’s national rail network. Maintaining a strong and unified identity across a country’s railway, ferry and hovercraft network demanded a groundbreaking and extensive piece of graphic design. This book will celebrate British Rail’s identity in its entirety – not only its distinctive symbol”.

The comprehensive manuals contain guidelines for British Rail’s symbol, logotype, lettering, color palette, architecture and signposting, rolling stock, lineside equipment, road vehicles, ships, liner trains, uniforms, and stationery. In addition to having the Department of Transportation’s full blessing, Henning is collaborating with Nick Job, a recognised custodian of the British Rail Corporate Identity Manual. “I first came across the manual when reading a piece by graphic designer Michael C Place in the 2006 newspaper publication Reading List 2 by Spin. This prompted me to hunt down the manual and learn more about them. That, in turn, lead to dedicating my MA in communication design to creating an identity for a renationalised transport network. I also began a collection of British Rail ephemera as part of my research” says Henning.

“The whole thing is such a brilliantly consistent and well-designed system, owing much of its strength to its crisp, stark simplicity, to its minimalism and almost-total reliance on typography alone” writes Ministry Of Type. “There’s so little to it that there’s very little (virtually nothing) that can ever really look out of date or old fashioned... What made the identity look bad was the usual thing that ruins most good things: neglect and apathy.” Thanks to Wallace Henning this manual is brought back to life.

Well suited to run the project, Henning is a graphic designer with over eight years of experience. For him, aside from the inherent cultural importance of the book, this is about creating an exceptional piece of print at an affordable price. For numerous others this is an option to rediscover the manual of the nationalised entity that ran the vast majority of railways in the UK, from the late 40s to the late 90s. More on this project here.