BR Cor­po­rate Iden­tity

Rail (UK) - - Feature History -

Many RAIL read­ers will fondly re­mem­ber Bri­tish Rail’s iconic de­signs that adorned ev­ery­thing re­lated to the na­tion­alised op­er­a­tion of the rail­ways - not least its fa­mous dou­ble ar­row logo, that is hap­pily still in use to­day.

To cel­e­brate this rich her­itage of type­faces, sign­post­ing, liv­er­ies and much more, The Bri­tish Rail Cor­po­rate Iden­tity Manual has been painstak­ingly com­piled, edited and re­pub­lished by Wal­lace Hen­ning, as a com­pre­hen­sive ref­er­ence guide.

To mark the book’s re­cent re­lease, RAIL presents the in­tro­duc­tion writ­ten by Bri­tish Rail’s for­mer Head of De­sign Tony Howard (left), and a re­view writ­ten by Tim Dunn, pre­sen­ter of the BBC’s re­cent se­ries Trainspot­ting Live. RAIL read­ers can also ben­e­fit from a spe­cial dis­count code (de­tails on op­po­site page), which en­ti­tles you to a sig­nif­i­cant re­duc­tion on the book’s re­tail price of £ 75

For many de­sign­ers, his­to­ri­ans and rail en­thu­si­asts the orig­i­nal Bri­tish Rail

Cor­po­rate Iden­tity Manual is a revered ob­ject. It cap­tures that mo­ment in time when the cor­po­rate iden­tity was first launched, when a modern all-em­brac­ing mono­lithic iden­tity was ap­plied to one of the UK’s big­gest na­tion­alised in­dus­tries. Clearly they have an en­dur­ing re­spect for the cor­po­rate iden­tity, but per­haps lit­tle real ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the con­tri­bu­tion the Manual it­self made to the suc­cess of the cor­po­rate iden­tity.

The Manual was de­signed to be a work­ing tool. Al­though in­flu­enced by ear­lier cor­po­rate iden­tity man­u­als pro­duced by large Amer­i­can cor­po­ra­tions, the Bri­tish Rail Manual was, like the iden­tity, one of the first of its kind in Europe. It set the stan­dard for how large cor­po­rate iden­ti­ties are im­ple­mented but more im­por­tantly, how they are con­trolled.

Bri­tish Rail was a huge or­gan­i­sa­tion with nearly 400,000 em­ploy­ees at the time the new cor­po­rate iden­tity was launched. Most of those em­ploy­ees had worked in one of the ‘Big Four’ rail­way com­pa­nies be­fore they were na­tion­alised. They had al­ready ex­pe­ri­enced the in­tro­duc­tion of the ‘hot dog’ Bri­tish Rail­ways lo­go­type as well as the heraldic lion crest which were both adopted for the newly na­tion­alised or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Im­ple­ment­ing the new iden­tity re­quired the re­moval and re­place­ment of all the old lo­go­types, sym­bols and nu­mer­ous liv­er­ies. They had to be re­placed strate­gi­cally and quickly with new de­signs. The Manual ex­plained the process and spec­i­fied the ap­pli­ca­tions, clearly and con­cisely. The first chal­lenge, how­ever, was to dis­trib­ute the Manual to hun­dreds of di­vi­sional man­agers, train de­pots, in-house print­ers and sign man­u­fac­tur­ers.

In an age with­out email, fax or even telex the Man­u­als were dis­trib­uted by post or Bri­tish Rail’s own par­cel ser­vice, and queries about the de­signs or their ap­pli­ca­tion could only be an­swered by phone or by let­ter. Con­sis­tency in this ini­tial im­ple­men­ta­tion was vi­tal. The qual­ity and pre­ci­sion of in­for­ma­tion pre­sented in the Manual was crit­i­cal, as was the en­thu­si­asm of the man­agers se­lected to over­see the work.

The Manual was struc­tured to make it easy to use and easy to un­der­stand. Every de­sign el­e­ment or ap­pli­ca­tion was care­fully ex­plained and il­lus­trated on in­di­vid­ual pages. The pages were called Sheets (later re­ferred to as In­for­ma­tion Sheets) and each given a unique ref­er­ence num­ber. Supplied in multi-ring binders, the Manual was de­signed for fu­ture ex­pan­sion where new or amended sheets could be eas­ily added or ob­so­lete sheets re­moved. In the 1980s a data­base of all au­tho­rised hold­ers of the Manual was es­tab­lished so they could re­ceive reg­u­lar up­dates of new or amended In­for­ma­tion Sheets.

As the Bri­tish Rail Iden­tity de­vel­oped, the Manual even­tu­ally out­grew the first four vol­umes. A sys­tem for dis­tribut­ing copies of the In­for­ma­tion Sheets, and sup­ply­ing orig­i­nal art­work (on film or photo-me­chan­i­cal trans­fer sheets), was set up to pro­vide a call-off ser­vice for any de­part­ment or di­vi­sion of Bri­tish Rail that needed them.

This also pro­vided a great de­gree of con­trol of art­work distri­bu­tion to ex­ter­nal de­sign

con­sul­tants, ad­ver­tis­ers and print­ers.

For 20 years it was un­de­ni­ably a suc­cess­ful sys­tem. The im­ple­men­ta­tion of the Bri­tish Rail cor­po­rate iden­tity was thor­ough and con­sis­tent. On a na­tion­wide ba­sis this cov­ered thou­sands of build­ings (of­fices, de­pots, ho­tels and more than 2,500 rail­way sta­tions) plus tens of thou­sands of rail and road ve­hi­cles. In­di­vid­ual printed items most likely ran into the mil­lions.

By the mid-1980s a sig­nif­i­cant up­date of the Manual added sev­eral hun­dred new In­for­ma­tion Sheets. The num­ber­ing sys­tem had to be amended to cope with this ex­pan­sion, in­clud­ing fur­ther changes to al­low for iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of sec­tor-spe­cific de­sign. By this time the ad­min­is­tra­tion and up­dat­ing of the Cor­po­rate Iden­tity Manual re­quired five or six ded­i­cated staff. It was labour-in­ten­sive and slow.

By 1990 the new Bri­tish Rail de­sign man­age­ment team in­tro­duced com­put­ers to try and stream­line the ad­min­is­tra­tion process and digi­tise the In­for­ma­tion Sheets. The Manual had be­come too big and could no longer be de­scribed as a manual. By this time the col­lec­tion of In­for­ma­tion Sheets filled more than ten fil­ing cab­i­nets - thou­sands of pages, pieces of art­work and as­sem­bled sub­sets of the Manual. It con­trolled the iden­tity, but only by dic­tat­ing and spec­i­fy­ing every de­tail and de­sign vari­a­tion.

Like the Bri­tish Rail iden­tity the Manual had be­come in­flex­i­ble and out­dated. It rig­or­ously main­tained the ap­pli­ca­tion of a heavy mono­lithic cor­po­rate iden­tity when the world was dis­cov­er­ing a whole new ap­proach to brand­ing. Since 1982 Bri­tish Rail had been de­vel­op­ing op­er­a­tional sec­tor brands such as In­ter­City, Network South­East, Rail­freight and Re­gional Rail­ways. These brands bet­ter ex­pressed the func­tion and char­ac­ter of their op­er­a­tion and the staff work­ing in these sec­tors re­acted favourably, show­ing great al­le­giance and en­thu­si­asm for their new brands.

Of course, these new brands re­quired their own guide­lines and some ef­forts were made to adapt the In­for­ma­tion Sheet sys­tem to sup­port these. It didn’t re­ally work, and the fastap­proach­ing pri­vati­sa­tion of Bri­tain’s rail­ways vir­tu­ally killed off the Bri­tish Rail Cor­po­rate Iden­tity.

De­spite rail pri­vati­sa­tion the dou­ble ar­row sym­bol proved its re­silience and ef­fec­tive­ness. It sur­vives as an iden­ti­fier of UK rail sta­tions and rail ser­vices and has al­ways been used on tick­ets. The only thing miss­ing is a set of de­tailed In­for­ma­tion Sheets to con­trol its every ap­pli­ca­tion and use.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.