Rail Alphabet 2 launches at exhibition celebrating 1960s design icon

Rail Alphabet 2 launches at exhibition celebrating 1960s design icon

Published 26 October 2020 | Average read time
4 min read
Stories People and the railway Putting passengers first

An exhibition celebrating the work of pioneering graphic designer Margaret Calvert has opened at The Design Museum. It comes as we launch a landmark update to her iconic Rail Alphabet.

The Woman at Work exhibition, supported by Network Rail, features the newly launched customised typeface Rail Alphabet 2, designed by Calvert in collaboration with designer Henrik Kubel.

The updated typeface, which builds on Rail Alphabet – introduced in the 1960s – will be used in design publications and eventually sign all our directly managed railway stations.

The new version will make it easier for you to read signs on your journeys and will make its first appearance on the railway at London Paddington station.

The exhibition tells the design story behind the railways from the 1960s to the launch of Rail Alphabet 2. You can also learn more about wayfinding as a design field and how new systems are designed to create a safer and more inclusive travel environment.

Margaret Calvert – shaping our national visual identity

Margaret Calvert’s career spans more than six decades and has played a significant role in design across Britain. Her work with Jock Kinneir has defined our roads, rail stations, and airports, and her work with Kubel has changed the face of the Gov.UK website.

At the exhibition, you will get to know Calvert through three timeless typefaces: Rail Alphabet; Calvert, used for the Tyne and Wear Metro and the identity for the Royal College of Art; and Transport, for the UK road signs which, despite minor modifications, remain in use today.

New Transport, a commercial face, was designed at a much later stage with Kubel. It’s now the official face for the Gov.UK website.

Margaret Calvert talking to a colleague in a train station

Explore the creative processes that led to the Rail Alphabet typeface and see how rail signage, printed materials and station architecture have changed for the present day. It includes a bespoke suite of pictograms for our new wayfinding system designed by design studio Spaceagency using the new Rail Alphabet 2 typeface.

Sir Peter Hendy, chair of Network Rail, said: “The original rail alphabet designed by Margaret was an enduring design icon of the 1960s, and heralded the rebirth of the modern British railway system. She is a true pioneer of design and I’m delighted we’ve been able to work with her and Henrik Kubel on Rail Alphabet 2.

“There’s a muddle of different fonts used on railway signage which are hard to read and confusing for passengers, so we were keen to work on a clean and consistent design to make journeys and stations better.

“This is just one of the ways in which we are taking a fresh, collaborative approach to design and putting passengers first.”

British Rail alphabet posters

Margaret Calvert said: “It’s been wonderful for me to have been given a chance to re-visit the original Rail Alphabet, designed by me in the 60s, as a starting point for the design of Rail Alphabet 2, for Network Rail, which will be used for both wayfinding, and as a text face for specific publications.”

Deyan Sudjic, director emeritus of the Design Museum, said: “Margaret Calvert showed Britain the way into the modern world. Her brilliant signage system made sense of the new motorways in the 1960s, welcomed us into a generation of new NHS Hospitals, and guided us through brand new airports and railway stations.”

Good design for a better railway

The exhibition forms part of a wider initiative, led by our Buildings and Architecture team, to deliver a safe and reliable railway through good and sustainable design. This opportunity to work with experts in wayfinding and typeface design will allow us to reach the wider design community and broaden our approach to quality design.

We’ve created a framework – ‘Principles of Good Design’ – in partnership with Design Council, a charity and government adviser, to describes our long-term vision and ambitions.

Read more about how we’re improving the railway through better design.

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