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A Manchester modernist

Norman Wilson’s pioneering Manchester design practice brought striking modernist graphics to industrial Britain – including the once-ubiquitous NBC Corporate Identity

Just published…. issue 44 of The Modernist magazine includes an article by Richard Price on the career, influences and graphic design work of Norman Wilson. Wilson’s work for Croda International drew him to the attention of Sir Fred Wood who, on his appointment as NBC chair in 1971, appointed Wilson to develop a new corporate identity.

Norman Wilson’s designs for the National Bus Company corporate identity, in the modernist 44.

Unlike the development of British Rail’s corporate identity, remarkably little is documented on Wilson, his business Norman Wilson Associates, their influences or the creative process. This article and the research behind it help to correct that.

It is Wilson’s NBC Corporate Identity Manual of 1972 and 1976, which formalised the identity he developed over the course of 1971-72, that this project has been launched to reissue.

Norman Wilson’s work for Croda International, from the modernist 44 ‘LAYOUT’, September 2022.

Wilson’s work extended beyond the bus industry. The article looks at how his designs brought modernism to parts of industrial Britain – for the chemicals industry, the relaunch of famous northern restaurant chain UCP, and his work teaching and inspiring a new generation of commercial graphic designers. Much of his work demonstrates his skill for creatively combining colour, striking photography and innovative letterforms to produce a visually-striking design. Edward Pond, a friend and collaborator (and later the founder of the Paperchase chain) described Wilson as “a typographer in the true sense of the word”.

The Modernist is available for £8 from: https://the-modernist.org/collections/the-modernist-magazine/products/the-modernist-magazine-issue-44-layout, and read more about Wilson’s work and influences here.

Were you involved, or did you work with Norman Wilson, or know of Norman Wilson Associates’ work for NBC or elsewhere? If so, please do get in touch with us using our contact form.

You can read more about our research to date on designer Norman Wilson and his influences here.

Help us to tell the full story of the NBC Corporate Identity.

For their help and support with this article, thanks to Jean Horsfall, Adrian, Stuart and Joan Wilson, John Oldfield and Anthony Dawson; to Jeremy Parrett at the Manchester Metropolitan University’s Special Col-lections for access to the Norman Wilson archive; to The Bus Archive and Eastern Transport Collection Society; to Nick Job for digitisation of the National symbol and typeface; to Martyn Cummins for re-drawn NBC manual diagrams; and to Croda International and National Express for use of their graphics. Double N is the registered trade mark of National Express Limited.

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Design Developing the Manual Norman Wilson

Norman Wilson Associates

Can you help us to tell the story of Norman Wilson and the NBC Corporate Identity?

In 1972, Sir Fred Wood was appointed chair of the National Bus Company, with a mandate to take a more commercial approach to the corporation’s management, with a business-oriented focus on halting the decline in NBC’s market share and financial performance in both coach and bus markets. Wood had been impressed by his experience of Greyhound Coaches during his time in the US, with its consistent ‘pan-continental’ branding. As part of his new approach to turning around NBC’s fortunes, he called for a root-and-branch rebranding of coach and bus operations.

Before even taking up his role as NBC Chair, late in 1971 Fred Wood approached Manchester-based designer Norman Wilson – who had worked with him at his family business, Croda – to develop a new corporate identity. It is Wilson’s NBC Corporate Identity Manual, which formalised the identity he developed over the course of 1971-72, that this project has been launched to reissue.

Norman Wilson, designer of the NBC Corporate Identity, applies his NATIONAL lettering to the very first ‘white coach’ at Eastern Coach Works (ECW), Lowestoft, April 1972. His ‘double-N’ arrow seems to be pointing in the wrong direction in this trial application of the new identity to Eastern Counties’ RE858: normally it would point in the direction of travel on either side of the vehicle. Behind Wilson, assisting with the application, is ECW’s Alan ‘Casey’ Crisp, described by Eastern Counties’ Stephen Milne as “the best coach painter I ever knew – the best at lining-out and an excellent sign-writer.” Casey spent his entire working life at ECW, retiring at 65, three years before the Coachworks closed in 1987.

But unlike the development of British Rail’s corporate identity, remarkably little is documented on Wilson, his business Norman Wilson Associates, their influences or the creative process.

Can you help us to fill the gap? Were you involved, or did you work with Norman Wilson, or know of Norman Wilson Associates’ work for NBC or elsewhere? If so, please do get in touch with us using our contact form.

You can read more about our research to date on designer Norman Wilson and his influences here.

Help us to tell the full story of the NBC Corporate Identity.