How a legendary brand guideline manual was reborn

A graphic designer, a crowd-funding campaign, and a personal obsession came together to recreate British Rail's identity manual.

There's something borderline OCD about identity guidelines, brand manuals and style guides. Designing the perfect combination of lettering, pictograms, colour schemes and other brand elements, ensuring they can be used across huge numbers of assets and products of vastly differing scale and shape, and then meticulously assembling a guide to ensure that no unwanted variants of the carefully prepared identity are utilised… it's an obsession, but one that many of us will find hugely rewarding.

Graphic designer Wallace Henning read an article by Michael C Place about the British Rail Corporate Identity Manual, a four volume, 220-page set of brand guidelines for the UK's national rail service, and was instantly hooked. He focused his MA in communication design on "creating an identity for a renationalised transport network", then came up with the idea of reprinting the original manual.

The original

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Scroll through the gallery above to see the original British Rail Corporate Identity Manual

The original British Rail Corporate Identity Manual was presented in four ring-bound volumes. 

"The nature of the ring binder system used to hold the individual Sheets of the original Manual has meant most, or quite possibly all sets of the Manual were never complete," says Henning. 

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Scroll through the gallery above to see the original BR manual

As revealed on www.doublearrow.co.uk, the four binders were issued in three instalments: Binder 1 (not numbered), issued in July 1965, contained information on Basic Elements (symbol, logotype, lettering and colour). 

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Scroll through the gallery above to see the original BR manual

Binder 2, issued in November 1966, contained guidance on Printed Publicity plus some additional sheets for insertion into Binder 1, and future insertion into Binders 3 and 4.

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Scroll through the gallery above to see the original BR manual

Binders 3 and 4 were issued together in April 1970, together with additional sheets for the first two binders. 

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Scroll through the gallery above to see the original BR manual

Binders 3 and 4 contained information on architecture and signposting, rolling stock, lineside equipment, road vehicles, ships, liner trains, uniforms, stationery, miscellaneous and appendices (including an index) although two sections were ultimately to remain empty.

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Scroll through the gallery above to see the original BR manual

The distinctive 'double arrow' British Rail logo, which has become a graphic design classic.

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Scroll through the gallery above to see the original BR manual

The rolling stock image pages, including this HST Class 253 Diesel Electric (the Inter-City 125) featured a parallel double-fold.

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Scroll through the gallery above to see the original BR manual

The famous typeface Rail Alphabet featured on a gatefold page, and each volume was bound using the MULT-O 23-ring binder system.

The crowdfunding

In 2015, Henning launched a Kickstarter campaign to republish the British Rail corporate identity manual.

"This book celebrates British Rail’s identity in its entirety – not only its distinctive symbol but its full graphic design programme, from detailed specimens of the famous Rail Alphabet typeface to the livery of the Inter-City 125," says Henning. 

The proposal was backed by the Department of Transport and the plan was that the new book would feature a foreword by Michael C Place of Build, introduction by former British Rail head of design Tony Howard and essay from James Greenfield, creative director and founder of Koto.

The crowd funding campaign ran until 22 December 2015, and comfortably exceeded its target of £40,000, eventually topping out at £55,102. The next stage could now begin.

The paper

Being a graphic designer as well as a British Rail enthusiast, Henning was determined that every aspect of the print production would be carefully selected and managed. 

"The book has been printed with a rare H-UV litho press that dries the ink faster than traditional methods, resulting in an uncompromised sharper printed image," says Henning. "The uncoated smooth paper has been sourced from Sweden and required special making which ensured that it has a short grain, allowing this 472 page book to lay open easier, giving a more enjoyable read."

The britishrailmanual.com website goes into great detail about the paper utilised. Supplied by Fenner Paper in the UK, Lessebo Design Smooth White in 130gsm is from the Lessebo Mill, located in remote area of southern Sweden called Småland. Founded in the middle of the 17th century as an iron mill, it was granted permission by the local government to produce paper in 1693.

"The custom making for the British Rail Manual meant that grain direction could head to foot of the book (i.e. parallel to the spine)," says Henning. "The grain direction refers to the way the fibres lie in the direction of the paper machine and is one of the most important physical characteristics of a paper. This is important because of the way the paper feels and 'rolls' and the way the text flops and lays open."

The reprint

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Scroll through the gallery above to see snapshots of the process involved in recreating the manual

Wet proof. 

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Scroll through the gallery above to see snapshots of the process involved in recreating the manual

Paper order - not even all of it!

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Scroll through the gallery above to see snapshots of the process involved in recreating the manual

The H-UV press.

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Scroll through the gallery above to see snapshots of the process involved in recreating the manual

Early morning press passing.

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Scroll through the gallery above to see snapshots of the process involved in recreating the manual

Referencing the manual at the printers.

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Scroll through the gallery above to see snapshots of the process involved in recreating the manual

First sheet run of the text pages.

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Scroll through the gallery above to see snapshots of the process involved in recreating the manual

Ink for the spot colours.

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Scroll through the gallery above to see snapshots of the process involved in recreating the manual

Referencing the manual at the printers.

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Scroll through the gallery above to see snapshots of the process involved in recreating the manual

Additional sheets from the National Railway Museum on set.

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Scroll through the gallery above to see snapshots of the process involved in recreating the manual

Manual sheet being shot.

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Scroll through the gallery above to see snapshots of the process involved in recreating the manual

Manual sheet being shot.

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Scroll through the gallery above to see snapshots of the process involved in recreating the manual

Manual sheet being shot.

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Scroll through the gallery above to see snapshots of the process involved in recreating the manual

Manual sheet being shot.

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Scroll through the gallery above to see snapshots of the process involved in recreating the manual

Manual sheet being shot.

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Scroll through the gallery above to see snapshots of the process involved in recreating the manual

Manual being shot.

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Scroll through the gallery above to see snapshots of the process involved in recreating the manual

Manual being shot.

The extras

Alongside my collection of Letraset catalogues and the signed copy of Wim Crouwel's Mode en Module, [the original manual] is a prized part of my design library. The BR Manual is not only a thing of great beauty in itself; it is also one of those rare things of beauty: an idea that is defined by rigour and incredible vision.

Michael C Place

The reproduction contains a foreward from the man who was in many ways the inspiration for Henning at the inception of the process: Michael C Place. Other additional nuggets of information provided in Henning's reimagining of the BR manual is an interview with Gerry Barney, the designer of the iconic double-arrow logo, an essay on redesigning iconic logos by James Greenfield, and an essay by Dr Paul Rennie on the identity of mass-transit systems – each a fascinating read. 

The result

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Scroll through the gallery above to see the new reproduction of the British Rail Corporate Identity Manual
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Scroll through the gallery above to see the new reproduction BR manual
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Scroll through the gallery above to see the new reproduction BR manual
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Scroll through the gallery above to see the new reproduction BR manual
Image 5 of 18

Scroll through the gallery above to see the new reproduction BR manual
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Scroll through the gallery above to see the new reproduction BR manual
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Scroll through the gallery above to see the new reproduction BR manual
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Scroll through the gallery above to see the new reproduction BR manual
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Scroll through the gallery above to see the new reproduction BR manual
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Scroll through the gallery above to see the new reproduction BR manual
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Scroll through the gallery above to see the new reproduction BR manual
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Scroll through the gallery above to see the new reproduction BR manual
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Scroll through the gallery above to see the new reproduction BR manual
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Scroll through the gallery above to see the new reproduction BR manual
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Scroll through the gallery above to see the new reproduction BR manual
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Scroll through the gallery above to see the new reproduction BR manual
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Scroll through the gallery above to see the new reproduction BR manual
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Scroll through the gallery above to see the new reproduction BR manual

The high specification reproduction of the iconic British Rail Corporate Identity Manual costs £75 and you can get hold of a copy here.

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