South Eastern Railway Company Posters

Only a month ago a top-notch auctioneer wielded the hammer over railway posters of the past, raising a tidy sum for great British designs that have fallen into heritage. Whatever happened to those wonderful collectables, remembered now mainly through nostalgic British Rail postcards?

London design consultancy Johnson Banks reckons it has found a new platform for the notion of good railway graphics, courtesy of the South Eastern Railway

Company. A series of 15 eye-catching A0 posters is about to hit the hoardings, on themes dear to the railway – like leaves on the line and lost property.

Designed by Michael Johnson and Harriet Devoy at Johnson Banks, the posters aim to give impact to customer information and public warnings. They feature brightly coloured illustrations – all but one of which was drawn on computer as a series of straight lines to give a ‘cut-out’ effect. The exception, a ‘lost property’ teddy bear, was hand-drawn and then scanned in.

Short, witty copy – again by Johnson Banks – set in Helvetica (a given from the client) completes the design. ‘It was like designer heaven,’ says Johnson. ‘We were told the subjects and given the general information.’ The rest was largely up to them.

Says SERC design manager Helen Rayner: ‘We produce a huge amount of customer information, but everyday messages such as those about lost property were losing out [on site] to other people’s posters.

‘The customer information was becoming wordy and boring. We wanted to make people’s lives more colourful.’

Rayner, who has only been in her post for about a year, had a tough time pushing through such a radical shift in communications policy. But it’s undoubtedly paid off in terms of clarity – and with the first batch of posters ready for hanging, Johnson Banks now has four more on track.

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