If you’ve ever seen a freight train go by while you’re driving in Montreal (or anywhere in Canada, really), then you’ve likely seen the Canadian National Railway logo. As the largest railway in Canada, at 32,831 km, this railway is the only transcontinental railway in Canada, stretching from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Meaning that no matter where you are in Canada, it’s likely you’ve seen the CN, the logo of the Canadian National Railway. It is only the largest brands and companies that have logos so iconic that they are instantly recognized, and the CN is one of these. But where did it originate, who was the logo designer, and why is it such an iconic design?
Who Created The CN’s Logo Design?
In 1960 the Canadian National Railway was due for a logo redesign. It was a new time, the beginning of a new age of graphic design in Canada. Prior to 1960, almost every design in Canada included the image of a maple leaf, but this new age allowed for designs to drop the maple leaf and create fresh looks.
Allan Fleming, then a great but not well-known graphic designer, was commissioned to create a new logo that perfectly captured the image the railway wished to project. For instance, Canada 150 states that the railway wished the logo to portray itself as being “powerful, progressive, and dynamic”.
Given that designing a logo for the largest railway in Canada placed a lot of weight on Fleming’s shoulders, it took him several months to design the perfect one. Surprisingly, the idea came to him while on a flight, and the original design was scribbled on a paper napkin!
What Makes The CN Logo Design So Iconic?
According to DesignKultur, Allan Fleming was expecting his design to last about 50 years. It is now nearly 60 years later and his design is still being used. So what makes the design iconic enough to still be in use far longer than expected?
While Fleming was tasked with creating a design that exemplified the railway’s power, he was also made aware that the new logo design was to be used on everything from the company’s business cards, to its trains. This meant the design had to be recognizable at any size, and easily adapted. Additionally, the design had to be bilingual, to be inclusive of all Canada’s diverse population.
So what was the design that came to Fleming during a flight? The simple, yet innovative, flowing CN symbol that you’ve most likely seen all your life. The elegant flow from the C into the N mimics the flow of a train track, ensuring that trains would always come to mind when the logo appeared. Not only did this fit all the criteria Fleming was given for the design, but it also resulted in a logo that is truly timeless. To quote Fleming directly “A literal drawing in 1944 of an object — even a plant leaf — looks in 1954 as if it was drawn in 1944. After five, 10 or 15 years, that symbol would have to be revised. In fact, CN itself has had that history up to now — of constantly revising its trademark bit by bit — and every time it has been revised the one before it is out of date, and it costs a lot of money and a lot of hard work to keep ahead of the game.” LogoDesignLove uses that quote to explain that Fleming intentionally avoided using symbols such as animals and plants, going with a simpler design he knew would be timeless.
To sum up, when you create a versatile logo that can be used for any type of branding, one that mimics the product it’s representing, is inclusive of thel national languages, perfectly portrays the brand’s qualities, and looks like it belongs in any age, you end up with an iconic logo design that passes the test of time. And thus, Allan Fleming became one of the most well-known names in design and CN one of the most recognizable designs in the world.