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. 

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