BR Corporate Identity Manual: Review
Blue. Grey. Red Star Parcels, yellow ends and white Rail Alphabet. This book contains the most astoundingly simple - yet intricately executed - visual identity that has ever graced the rails of Britain.
The British Rail corporate identity was, and still is, something that many of us working in both railways and design hold up as gold (or should that be blue?) standard: many of the principles laid out cleanly and concisely here are still maintained in organisations today.
This design guide not only papered over the cracks in a faded, grimy steam-era railway, it pulled it together. British Rail was an identity that not only did its staff feel they could aspire to, but crucially that the public could believe in.
This book is made with love - love that is writ large. Whether one is pro-nationalisation or pro-private operator, one cannot fail to appreciate how the branding, authority and user experience (to use a 21st century term) in this is laid out plainly and explicitly. Every page is a perfectly crafted, perfectly proportioned work of meticulous design.
The original books from which this single volume has been created (and it is a weighty tome) were in plastic ring-binders for easy removal of specification and to use out in the field, or indeed in the depot. This book is printed on heavy stock and with colour precision that only a design obsessive such as Wallace Henning, the instigator and editor of this reprint, would demand. The finished product is a thing of beauty.
The idea of reprinting a design guide for an organisation that ceased to have a comprehensive public presence 25 years ago is, frankly, bonkers. But any user of the British rail network from the 1970s and 1980s will recognise, delight and reminisce in features from their travels - be it the delightful typeface, the oddly-missing apostrophe in Travellers Fare restaurants, the reversed-BR symbol on one side of Sealink ferries, or the striking never-to-be-bettered yellow, blue and grey of the HST.
This 2017 graphical reprint has been topped and tailed by a handful of professionals such as Gerry Barney (he who designed the British Rail symbol) and Tony Howard (former Head of Design for British Rail). There are also pleasing short essays on the context for the book.
This book will be picked up from your table or desk by a non-believer, but (hopefully) be returned sometime later by someone who now starts to understand - just a little bit - more about why the rest of us see beauty in rail. I think you will enjoy this book.