News / Exhibition

Roundel’s seminal identity for British Rail celebrated in new exhibition

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In 1992 when Bryan Edmondson was a fresh graduate he got a job at the design group Roundel. Five years earlier in 1987, the agency had completed a large and now cherished identity for British Rail’s Railfreight trains, an identity built of geometric shapes which has influenced countless designers since. Despite not working there while Roundel completed the work, Bryan was able to experience the buzz it created and subsequent projects. Now, all these years later he is the creative director of his own agency, Sea Design, but unable to shake the worth of his experience at Roundel, Bryan has organised an exhibition in celebration of the identity aptly titled Design For Rail.

Since Bryan worked at Roundel he regularly kept in touch with partners Mike Denny and John Bateson (who It’s Nice That interviewed last year), and over the past year has been “thinking about a possible exhibition of this seminal identity work,” he tells It’s Nice That. The result is an exhibition curated by his agency, housing together various printed ephemera including metal depot plates, guidelines and even “an extracted piece of signage from a depot in Hampshire which was sadly rusting away!”

Outside of the design world, it could be considered that Roundel’s formative work for British Rail has been gradually forgotten about. However, within the community of designers, the work which changed public opinion of Railfreight trains through the communicative tendencies of graphic design, is a pinnacle of what the medium can do. “In 1987, trains with strange, geometric markings were seen speeding through the night on British railways,” the exhibition’s introduction explains. “The coded insignia of Railfreight, based on fighter plane markings, hauled the image and fortunes of this moribund British Rail division into the future.”

Thanks to the help of Monotype, GF Smith and D&AD, where the exhibition takes place, Design For Rail opens this week from 22 — 26 February to learn “a great story of British design and British Rail that has been forgotten about, until now.”

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