British Rail’s Railfreight “moving brand” celebrated in new exhibition

Curated by Sea Design, the exhibition focuses on the geometric identity created by consultancy Roundel, which was used on British Rail’s freight trains in the 1980s and 1990s.

A new exhibition is opening in London that looks at the branding created for British Rail’s Railfreight division in the 1980s.

The visual identity for Railfreight – the company previously responsible for all freight operations on the British rail network – was completed by Roundel in 1987 and was used until the mid-1990s.

The coded, geometric symbols were based on fighter plane markings, and resulted in creating a “moving brand” that was “way ahead of its time”, says curator Bryan Edmondson.

Designed and curated by Edmondson’s London-based studio Sea Design, the exhibition has a personal motivation for the designer. His first job in design was at Roundel, joining in 1992 shortly after the Railfreight identity had started rolling out.

“It is a very personal project,” says Edmondson. “The work still stands the test of time and is an oddly restrained, modernist identity considering it was created in the ‘big’ era of the 1980s.”

The exhibition focuses largely on printed materials such as identity guidelines, livery manuals, brochures, calendars, signage and the livery itself. The consultancy also tracked down and excavated an existing piece of depot signage from a location in Hampshire, which is on display.

Edmondson says he already had several items in his own collection, but most of the designs on display have been loaned by the former Roundel team with the support of the National Railway Museum.

Design for Rail is on display from 22-26 February 2018 at D&AD, 64 Cheshire Street, London E2 6EH. Entry is free. For more information, head here.

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  • mike dempsey February 21, 2018 at 9:38 am

    This was, and still is, a wonderful piece of work by Roundel back then in the late 1980’s. And what an absolute waste to have jettisoned it. It would still look so startling and distinguished if it were in use today. All the British rail brands are a design embarrassment.

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