Tuesday, 8 September 2020

The helvetica rail look

In the illustrated intro to this book Otto Neurath is quoted as saying "Words divide, pictures unite" and this was the basis for Muller-Brockmann's Swiss railway station passenger information format. The book is not a comprehensive design manual similar to those published by the Dutch, Danish, British or New York Transit Authority rail companies where the logos and typography are carefully considered for every situation, MB's brief was to visually create an information system that was passenger focused and introduced in 1980. 

His idea was the pictogram and there are ninety-four shown in the book (and in later years another thirty-six were added) and they all work beautifully, even a quite complex idea for an amplification system for the hearing impaired. All of them in use are white on a dark blue background and a small number use red for danger or forbidden. The manual obviously has precise instructions for the creation and placing of these wordless signs.

In any design manual the corporate type face is important and MB chose Helvetica (no one will be surprise at that) and the manual refers to it as Helvetica Semi-Bold Corrected, apparently to separate it from Danish railways who used the same face but called it the DSB alfabet. The bulk of the manual pages show how Swiss rail's logo combined with type (always in upper and lower case) and pictograms was to be used throughout the network's stations.

The manual is printed on glossy paper and proceeded by sixty-four pages (on a different paper) with illustrated essays and including a nineteen page English translation of every German word in the manual. 

All human knowledge, least until 1990

This huge book was initially published by Mitchell Beazley in London during the early nineteen seventies. It was originally in ten volumes (the last two were the Alphapedia section in this book) and it presented knowledge primarily visually with beautiful illustrations and captions on each spread with an essay filling the top third of the spread. Random House revised the material for the American market but kept the basic spread format. I bought this revised 1990 edition recently because as a publication designer I thought it looked quite exceptional.

Why would anyone buy this book with its contents available for free on the net? Firstly: you can buy a copy incredibly cheaply. Secondly: though it's all on the net you'll have scroll around various websites to find all the information that's presented on individual spreads in this book,. Thirdly: it's just a pleasure to read information beautifully presented in this book. The 2911 pages are in four sections: The universe; earth; life on earth; man; history and culture; man and science; man and machines (1823 pages) Time charts (49 pages) Alphapedia (905 pages) Atlas (130 pages). 

The only downside (apart from being incredibly bulky) is that the technology section is obviously hopelessly out of date but you can always use the net to check up on tech from 1990. 

American Bicentennial 1976 / Graphic Standards Manual

A rather slim fifty page book with everything anyone needed to about how to use Bruce Blackburn's clever logo for the 1976 American bicentennial. Beautifully designed and printed (in color) and I thought it would make a useful starting guide to any design group that had to do a graphics manual for a company. Blackburn says the five pointed star was the starting point but it needed softening so thick red, white and blue lines were added to make a much softer star. There are interesting pages on how not to use the logo, the use of color, stationary, on vehicles et cetera and pages with the logo in various sizes. 

The book has a black card wrap-around cover with the logo embossed on the front, both inside cover flaps have essays from Blackburn and Christopher Bonanos. I found a good copy on the net at a much reduced price so it's worth searching around.