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British Rail Corporate Identity from 1965–1994 (doublearrow.co.uk)
68 points by teh_klev 5 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 12 comments

I recently purchased the British Rail corporate identity manual [1]. It is such a pleasure to browse through but it is basically the same pages that are posted on the doublearrow website.

There is a resurgence in reviving is these so-called "corporate design manuals" and thanks to hard work from people who have contacts, it has made possible to reproduce them.

Does anyone think today's corporate identities just don't have the same rigor and discipline that was given back in the 1960's and 70's? I've gathered stuff from the 1972 Munich Olympics, IBM design manual, CBC identity, NASA, EPA, most things published by Lars Muller publications, etc. The Swiss design has just eroded away and today's identities feel like they are soulless plastic shells compared to stone-line qualities of old stuff.

I've been reading BrandNew blog for more than 10 years[2]. I've noticed that today's design is about chasing trends which trade away the abstract aspect of "Timelessness".

Perhaps the design noise has always existed but the internet has allowed it to breed and spread?

[1] https://britishrailmanual.com/ [2] https://www.underconsideration.com/brandnew/

Also an avid reader of Brand New — I think your impression is correct, and it's been the subject of so many parodies there has to be at least a grain of truth to it.

It's not so much that they're not pursuing "timelessness" but that timelessness has become synonym with a very narrow aesthetic (modern/geometric sans serifs, minimalistic logos, etc.), often executed without the same talent as the classics (cue the hundreds of uninspired squiggles that brands use as logos).

However, I think some brands may be a bit too young for us to judge them in the light of staples like IBM/NASA/British Rail since they aren't at the same maturity level. It could be that selection bias plays a big role.

I didn't know you could buy the British Rail design manual. Thanks for the link. I've got a copy of "British Rail Designed 1948-1997"[0] which is an enjoyable coffee table book.

I'm more of a train spotter/anorak than a design afficionado which is why this interested me.

[0]: https://www.amazon.co.uk/British-Designed-1948-1997-David-La...

I believe the text on the spine is upside down. :) vs (: https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/1539/1721/products/British...

It's peculiar for an English language book to have the text on the spine bottom to top, but it's normal for French and German books.

There was a discussion on HN about this last year: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14448636

> Munich Olympics, IBM design manual

Is there any design work that has had more of a lasting impact than this? If is are, I’d like to know about them.

Yes. Vignelli associates (NY Subway), Paul Rand's work, Chermayeff & Geismar, Adrian Frutiger (Typography), Josef Muller Brockman (Graphic Design), Dieter Rams (Industrial Design), and more recently - Pentagram (Michael Beirut), Interbrand for corporate design. I am sure I am forgetting many many great designers.

I've discovered many American designers that had a profound impact on the image of American design. I found a list of 60 designers in "Moderns: Midcentury American Graphic Design" [1]. This is a phenomenal gold mine of a book which unfortunately has only 1 review.

[1] https://www.amazon.co.uk/Moderns-Midcentury-American-Graphic...

Thank you. I like the below book, though the politics might put many off. Many of the artists are unknown and/or were executed. It would have been a good exhibition to see at the Tate Modern.


Over the years I have worked for a fair few companies that have invested considerable expense and time creating brand guideline books for them to not be used in practice.

The most recent one that I was subjected to was interesting but it did not apply to the web. At no project meetings, e.g. for that new carousel (!) on the home page for that new season of products did anyone rock up with the official brand guideline book and refer to it. This did not mean that things were inconsistent on the site, it just was not what was needed.

Part of the problem in this incident was that the person that slaved away at the brand guideline effort was from a print background. You just have realities of minimum font size and how tall your logo can be when designing for the web. After a while that expensive, paid for (and therefore developer unfriendly) font gets binned and beyond the logo some system fonts with no funky kerning get used instead. Having colours specified in CMYK is fine but where was the RGB hexcode? I could be wrong but I think there was also this 'point size' going on, which is interesting if you are using ems, variable width fonts and whatnot, pixel measurements being almost as quaint as 'point sizes'.

So this was a well meaning anecdotal company style guide, written by the lorem-ipsum shapes-on-a-page posse and handed down to the web team and other departments for nobody to use it.

In this incident I would like to have changed things around a bit, however, at the time, due to technical debt, on the web team we had strictly 'add to' CSS and that was based on bloat that some agency had burdened the company with. Really the best option would have been to have ditched the print emphasis and legacy thoughts on what brand guidelines should be, to then make a fresh start with a company CSS stylesheet instead. This no longer needs to be bloat for legacy browsers it could be succinct, designed for accessibility and with 'print' being one of many media queries that it caters for. Need a box for the products? Design it with some tool that loads the stylesheet and use the styles. Better still, a SCSS stylesheet with lots and lots of comments in it and version control. Then the brand guideline book could be something that prints good and is also accessible online.

I know that the lorem-ipsum department would question this and how that they really need CMYK to get that special gold foil embossed on the box with 'bleed' and stuff set according to how Quark Express did it in 1983, I would also fully expect management to go with that established opinion. I would also imagine that the lorem-ipsum department would not understand 'CSS variables' or 'CSS Grid margins' or want to hear about 'CSS variable fonts', none of it is shiny. But design is how it works and the venerated manuals of yore were very much about design, design being 'how it works' but in the medium of the day. Today's pastiches by lorem-ipsumists are not with the times and not for the medium of the web. Companies are smaller and just don't have the inclination to get a proper agency to do a proper job.

I think the “them and us” dynamic you’re leaking everywhere was substantially more of a problem in that situation than anything you list.

You just know the designer is on dribbble or somewhere posting a comment about how the “framework-fanboys couldn’t even get their CSS shit together but spent all their time making a carousel(!) without any brand consideration”.

Them and us is toxic. UX done right isn’t separate, it’s holistic. There’s no stylebook at the meeting? They should have been invited to the meeting.

Margaret Calvert, who along with Jock Kinneir, made the defining typeface for the face of British Transport in the era of motorways, air travel and rail somewhat recently collaborated on a modern cut called 'New Rail Alphabet'.

It's possibly my single favourite 'font', not least because it's imprinted into the very core of my being as a standard means of representing information publicly.


Unfortunately, it is extremely expensive. It feels very similar to Helvetica with a pinch of Univers, Neue Haas Grostesk and Proxima Nova.

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