“The Worst Kind of Sustainability Thinking in Numbers”

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National Rail raised eyebrows this week with a green overhaul of its logo – we talked about the change to designers like Astrid Stavro and Matt Baxter.

The Rail Delivery Group (RDG) has revealed an update to the National Rail logo as part of the rail service’s We Mean Green campaign.

RDG (the group that represents National Rail) unveiled the green-themed logo ahead of the COP26 summit in November, as part of an environmental campaign to encourage rail use.

The temporary overhaul – which now features five shades of green – will be visible on station posters, onboard trains as well as on digital channels.

Courtesy of RDG

Although this is a temporary measure, the update has drawn criticism, especially from the original designer of the famous double-arrow logo, Gerry Barney. Barney, who was 24 when he designed the British Rail logo which was later used by National Rail, told The Guardian the green update is a “mess”.

He added, “I think that’s hogwash. I could figure it out if they had just swapped red for green. But why the hell do they have so many colors? It’s a bunch of old bullshit.

We asked the designers if they think the Green Update is an effective communication tool.


“While no one can dispute the promotion of more environmentally friendly ways to travel, this is yet another example of ‘greening’ by brands desperately trying to market themselves as more sustainable. People are not stupid and they just see right through. It’s the actions, not the color palettes that count, and until rail fares come down, “letting the train pick up the tension” just isn’t an option for many people.

“It reminds me of all the rainbow-colored logos that have popped up recently – what was originally a good idea soon became a bit meaningless and cliché (and had the opposite effect) of what brands originally planned to do) It’s a difficult balance to strike, but when people feel like brands are trying too hard, it’s just as bad as when they’re not trying. not enough – and those two things will eventually put us off as customers.

Astrid Stavro, partner at Pentagram


“I really don’t have anything positive to say about it. It’s just bad. The worst kind of sustainability thinking by the numbers – just do something green. From a design standpoint, frankly, I think Gerry nailed it down with ‘trash’, ‘mess’ and ‘load of old bullshit’. Horrible design in addition to a horrible thought.

“And from an efficiency standpoint, what is she trying to communicate? That taking the train is more sustainable than driving? Well, honestly, if we’re serious about sustainable travel, we should be making train travel cheaper, without increasing the prices while putting a green (multi-colored) logo on it.

Emily Jeffrey-Barrett, Founder of Among Equals



“I love this logo. Not that green. It makes no sense. The old. It’s just awesome. It’s from a design era that produced so many logos that we all love. It’s universal, it’s clear, it works hard and it makes you smile.

“The symbolism of movement in the British Rail logo is powerful because it is very determined. It’s not superimposed on fancy posts or trying to please everyone who sees it. It’s just. And that’s why we love it. Two lines, two alternating arrows, one color, one message.

“Changing the color to green (and not just green) is just plain lazy. And frankly, it looks pretty contrived in today’s design age.

Matt Partis, Creative Founder at Anagram


“The first thing to offer here is a huge genuflection of respect to Mr. Gerry Barney. He designed the British Rail logo for god’s sake, one of the most enduring British graphic icons of all time. It is part of the fabric of national life. (The fact that Mr. Barney originally drew the logo on the back of an envelope returning from a project meeting on the subway only adds to his wonder, doesn’t it?)

“In short, the British Rail logo is gloriously ubiquitous. And, in fact, it’s that same ubiquity and instant recognition that means you can do just about anything you want. Like the pads on an InterCity 125, you can hit it with almost anything you want and it will survive intact. Turn it several shades of green for a while? Why not? Pop it bang in the middle of an advertising campaign to get people back on the trains? Of course go for it.

“Above all, these are all temporary changes. Intentionally short-lived changes in the look or use of a popular brand during the life of a campaign, and no more. Like the recent Twitter hoo-hah design about the Beanz Meanz More campaign, I think we might get hot under the collar about a temporary amendment.

“Big household brands have always had fun with their ubiquitous brand assets. Think of Coke rebadging its bottles with the names of its customers. Or Maccas cheerfully deconstructing his “golden arches”. No one ever suggested that these were permanent changes. These are all short-term subversions driven by a campaign of ubiquitous symbols, typographies and shapes. The purpose of these campaign interventions is to surprise us, to make us look, before returning to their more familiar forms. If the end goal of all of this is to get us talking, then it has certainly worked. “

Matt Baxter, Creative Director at Baxter and Bailey


What do you think of the logo redesign? Let us know in the comments below.


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