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The Manual Project

An update on the NBC Manual project

An update for November: manual pages, archive work, and some big news on the design of the NBC corporate identity.

An update for November: manual pages, archive work, and some big news on the design of the NBC corporate identity.

First, thanks a lot to everyone who has helped and contributed, as well as to everyone who has signed up to the mailing list or followed on Twitter and Facebook. It’s great that there is so much interest in this project, both from the transport and design communities.

What’s in the manual?

I’m pleased to say that most of the manual’s pages have been tracked down and are ready to copy and reproduce. There are still some mysteries: with the help of the Bus Archive we are trying to iron these out as far as possible before we go to print. The manual was issued as a ringbound volume, with pages added and updated over time. The updates didn’t happen consistently, so each copy of the manual seems to have slightly different pages. There are also whole sections which we believe were prepared but never issued, and we are trying to track those down.

NBC Corporate Identity Manual: sheet 2.3: the National identifier

The target is to produce as definitive a reproduction as possible, so when lockdown ends, we will be searching through the NBC’s records at the Bus Archive and at the National Archive in Kew to avoid missing anything important from the final publication. This archive work, and some research on the design (see below) means we have not yet set a target date for publication, but most of the things we need are now nearly in place.

What’ll be in the book?

The manual itself is around 90 pages – much smaller than its British Rail counterpart, but no less engrossing. So our plan is to include other interesting material in the book, telling the story of the corporate identity from early thinking and rationale, through the design and pitching process, to application and roll-out – and then to the impact it had on staff and users.

The NBC Corporate Identity Manual binder, with Wallace Henning’s reissued British Rail manual.

You’ve already seen on the blog contributions from legendary Northern coachpainter Michael McCalla, from Eastern Counties driver and preservationist Sydney Eade, and from Trevor Shore on his daredevil adventures at Hants and Dorset. The book will feature more interviews and recollections from people who were involved and worked with the NBC identity – some of which we’ll also share on the blog.

Big news: meet the designers

For me, one of the most intriguing parts of the project has been finding put how the NBC identity developed and what influenced it. After a lot of detective work, I’m delighted to say that for the first time in 50 years, we’ll be able to cast some light on the development of the designs.

I’m very pleased to say that – with the help of Nick Job of the BR Double Arrow project – we’ve tracked down the two designers who worked with Norman Wilson on the very earliest work on the NBC identity, and consolidated it into the Manual. They’ve kindly agreed to talk to me about the development of the identity, their and Norman Wilson’s influences, and how they worked with NBC. The book (and the blog) will bring you their recollections of the initial work on the project, the graphic design influences that inspired and shaped the National logo and identity and their pitches to NBC chair Freddie Wood.

NBC’s 1972 Annual Report showcased the new corporate identity. Both were designed by Norman Wilson Associates.

We’ll also look at the challenges of scaling up their work to cover almost an entire industry – everything from stationery, paper cups and tie-clips, to some of the biggest vehicles on the road. And yes: the secrets of the NBC’s bespoke typeface will finally be unlocked. There’s a lot of material to work through, so I’ll write more on this in the coming months.

Help and support

I’m really pleased to have been able to draw on advice and support from some design and transport stalwarts: Ray Stenning of Best Impressions (whose National Bus Company Album I’ve owned for nearly 40 years); Philip Kirk, Director of the Bus Archive; Nick Job, designer and mastermind of the Double Arrow website, chronicling the development of the British Rail corporate identity; and Wallace Henning, the powerhouse behind the immaculate reproduction of the British Rail Corporate Identity Manual itself. Thanks to all of them. It’s a real pleasure to be able to work with such committed, interesting, good people.

Can you help?

If you have recollections you’d like to share – from your experience in the industry, from applying it in NBC service or in preservation, from operations or paintwork in the depots, from some of the adaptations made as the identity evolved through the MAP process and the development of National Express – please get in touch. We’re always happy to publish the best on the blog, and they could well make it into the book!

If you have stories or pictures you’d like to share please drop us a line at nbc [at] nationalbusmanual [dot] com, through Twitter at @busmanual, or our Facebook page.

Thanks for all your help and support.

Richard Price

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