Established in 1996 as part of the privatization of British Rail and originally named Great Western and then First Great Western in 1998 — along with a slew of other ownership and name changes that are too distracting to get into here — the newly renamed Great Western Railway is a train operating company that provides service from London to West London and the Thames Valley region, operating 208 stations. With a legacy that dates back to the 1830s when the tracks to the route were laid, the company introduced a new identity — and name change — designed by London-based Pentagram partner John Rushworth that would link it to its history and position it for its future improvements.
Inspired by the legacy of Brunel, the new branding is a modern adaptation of the traditional Great Western Railway look and feel, drawing on its 182-year-old heritage to inspire a new identity. As part of the new look, travelers will soon be able to see refreshed branding, new uniforms and the phased introduction of new train liveries.
The previous name and logo were amazingly cheap-looking and cheap-sounding. “First Great Western” — to a foreigner not familiar with the UK’s railway system — sounds like a bank and the logo didn’t do much to indicate this was a significant transport option. Sure, the “f” monogram has perspective to look like a track going into the distance but the magenta color didn’t quite scream “train”. The new logo aims to capture the spirit of the vintage GWR monogram but without just rehashing it. Instead it provides a simple, bold, and elegant logo that looks like it belongs as easily in the nineteenth century as it does in the twenty-first. At first, the proportion of the “W” is distracting but once you see it on the side of trains it simply works.
“The initial brief was very good, it was part of First’s rebidding for the franchise,” says Rushworth. “It was all about the ‘renaissance of rail’ … putting pride back into the sector, but in a way that was tangible and believable rather than it just being about — let’s say — a coat of paint. We wanted to make sure that it was delivered as a modern, contemporary railway company, relevant to rail travel and travellers today, but obviously one that was conscious of its history,” he says. “You shouldn’t walk away from your history, you should always celebrate it.
“That said, we took the attitude that the new visual identity would be appropriate if it felt like this had been in continuum from the days of when the Great Western Railway was valued but that, through natural evolution, this is where it had ended up.”
Perhaps I’m swayed to like the logo because of images like the above and maybe I’m just making connections that aren’t there without these pictures but there is a certain industrial-revolution-era personality to the logo that feels right.
To further my point about the cheap aesthetics of the previous logo, above is an example of the livery under the First Great Western branding. Just… No, thank you, I’ll take my party swirls from my Now That’s What I Call Music! CDs.
The new train color scheme is a dark green and… that’s it. Simple and elegant. Maybe a little military-ish but I’ll take that any day above the blue and magenta combo.
Not much to see in application but the overall sense of simplicity comes across quite well, even in photos of blurry coffee cups. The logo is supported by the use of Adrian Frutiger’s Glypha and it is at its best in the lighter weights. Overall, the goal of reinstating a sense of history and tradition into the train-riding experience has been perfectly well captured in the logo and its application on the trains.
Thanks to Creative Review for the tip.