Saturday, January 6, 2018

CN Logo, 1959


The enduring CN logo designed by Allan Fleming, was famously sketched on a cocktail napkin during an airline flight in 1959. This was part of a major corporate makeover for the rather stodgy Canadian National Railway.
 Below the reasons for, and thinking behind the corporate makeover is explained by the long time head of the CN corporate design program, Lorne Perry in 1960.

Lorne Perry, former design manager, stands in front of the CN logo, designed by Allan Fleming and James Valkus.

"The Editorial committee has been receiving lots of comments about CN's new trademark design, and I feel, therefore, that the reasons for it might be set out, as well as the thinking that went into its development.
It all began a few years ago when CN made an attitude study to determine the travel habits of Canadians. Trained researchers travelled across Canada asking questions of 4,000 adult Canadians, each of whom had made a trip of more than 100 miles within the previous year. The interviews in each case lasted more than two hours. Towards the end of the questionnaire, there were a number of questions about what people thought of the railways as opposed to other means of transportation,
It turned out that Canadians have a very poor image of railways, they see railway employees having steady jobs with a pretty dreary existence, as being rather unhappy in their work. Canadians believe that railways don't do much advertising, are slow about experimenting with new methods and services, and aren't very eager to improve their performance.
Actually, most of this is untrue. CN alone has spent over a billion dollars in the past ten years modernizing and improving its physical plant. The question is: why don't the railways get any credit for it? Well, seeing is believing, and the public doesn't get a chance to see many of the improvements that have been made; such things as CTC, microwave communication, dieselization, new terminal facilities, IBM computers and training programs are behind the scenes. What the public sees is the same drab old railroad.
The objective of the CN redesign program is to put a new package on an already much improved product. What manufacturer, having invested a billion dollars in product improvement! wouldn't then spend a few more dollars on package design?
The trademark design is the focal point of the program but everything it appears upon will also get a facelifting. For example. 300 new insulated boxcars built by Can-Car bear the new symbol. But we didn't simply replace symbol for symbol. The rest of the lettering was restyled and grouped into a neat block, upgrading the general appearance of the cars. The first 300 cars had the trademark design on the left and the specifications on the right; this is apparently not acceptable to the AAR as it conflicts with interchange standards. However, CN feels that this arrangement is an aesthetically superior one, and though future cars will be stencilled with specifications to the left and trademark on the right, the existing cars will not be altered until they come in for painting in the regular schedule.

CN laid down a set of conditions for the designers who developed the trademark

1. It must be expressive of the whole system, not just the railway operation.
2. It must express modernity and efficiency.
3. It must be bilingual.
4. It must be simple enough to be applied effectively to either a boxcar or the handle of a spoon.

The designer Allen Fleming deduced that the one thing common to all areas of CN operation was motion — the movement of men, materials and messages from one point to another and what better way to express this than with a continuous line? Point number one, above, led to the conclusion that the symbol should be built around the letters CN rather than CNR since the R stands for railways and CN is so much more than a railway. Anyway, the R has no meaning in French.
The "single  thickness line” method of drawing was selected because symbols so constructed have a durability and timelessness unmatched by other drawing styles. Natural forms, such as the maple leaf were ruled out because they are incompatible with the mechanized giant the new trademark was meant to express. Legibility, memorability, ease of reproduction and easy rec­ognition are all strong points of the new CN design.
The objective now is to establish schemes and patterns for the appearance of every object used by CN in providing it’s services to the public. The actual implementation of these designs will take years, but all the time the company will be working towards a un­iformity and consistency hith­erto unknown. I hope that this explan­ation will make it clear to the reader that this design was not the whim of a moment, but was carefully thought out with specific goals in mind. The principal aim is to provide a better climate of acc­eptance for the services which the company has to offer. The redesign program should help the sales force improve CN’s com­petitive position, and at the same time, demonstrate to em­ployees that management is convinced that there is a fut­ure in the railway business."
 Drawing from “Keeping Track” The in-house CNR publication.

Period drawing shows arrangement of the Canadian Nat­ional trademark design as it has been applied incorrectly to three hundred new boxcars in 1960. Future applications of the paint scheme shown embodied the design on the right and the specifications on the left in accord with North American practice.

Update June 2018 The subject is well covered in a new documentary by Greg Durrell;  Design Canada

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