Starbucks. McDonlads. Apple. FedEx. What do these companies have in common?
In reading the list of corporations above, an image of their logos most likely came to mind right away (or maybe a product). A good logo is the first way to attract and communicate with users of your products, public transit being no exception to this. A few months ago, Mark Byrnes of the The Atlantic Cities published a short piece on ‘Great and Not-so Great Subway Logos’ with some usual suspects making the ‘Great’ List, including the London Underground logo. Without a defined criteria stated by Byrnes, it appears he focused on typeface and fonts to determine what made a logo better than others. However, the choice of font is only one of many aspects that makes for a good transit logo. Take for example, the New Dehli subway logo, which was honored as a ‘Great’ logo:
Byrnes: “The lines inside the circle resemble a section of rail tracks with the vertical line suggesting speed.”
Like a bad joke, if you have to explain it, it’s not a good joke (or in this case, logo). Without the explanation, this could be a logo for a lot of other things (“No Smoking”?), which makes it actually not-so-great for marketing the subway. Liverpool’s Merseyrail is a commuter rail that moves an approximately 100,000 passengers per day. Their logo is not nearly as impressive as their ridership. It really doesn’t look too great on socks either:
The use of M’s for metro systems throughout the world is almost universal, which makes the letter very useful as a design theme for a logo. A logo using an ‘M’ then needs to incorporate other design elements to be unique, like color choice. Byrnes’ argument that the grey and yellow Merseyrail symbol makes for good colors for transportation design isn’t very strong. The trains are grey and yellow, so the color scheme is directly related to the stock. But against a white background (as shown on their website), its hard to read and without scanning the rest of the site, some may conclude that Mereyrail is a construction company. Color is important, but the bike storage ad from Meresyrail below demonstrates that a green/yellow scheme can be just as complementary as a grey/yellow one. The incorporation of the bike wheels in the logo reads like text and is well executed. This logo could easily be used for a bike share advertisement…should that ever be something the company pursues.
On the other hand, many of the unfortunate logos that were deemed “no-so-great” really were not so great. There were a few stand-out logos, however, that deserve some re-critiquing. The individual subway lines of Budapest have a rather Transformers-esque thing going for them which Byrnes calls out. Fun facts: this is also the logo for the subway’s iPhone app and the #1 subway line is an official World Heritage Site.
As this is the logo for the #1 line and not the entire system, this isn’t that bad of a logo. If anything, this would be a great opportunity to brand each line with a superhero theme: each one could have a character that could advertise service changes, etc. for specific lines. This logo would also look great on merchandizing (shirts, mugs, superhero toys, etc.). It should be noted that the greater system resorts to the M default for its logo with a fun arrow that, unlike the Delhi logo above, actually does suggest speed (photo credit: Rita Mitsuko):
Moreover, a good logo should be a first step in a larger branding effort for a transit service. Case in point: the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority currently uses a circle with an M inside of it like many other Metros do. This wasn’t always the case, as the agency underwent a major re-branding of its system in 2008 that is regarded as quite successful. To further ride the coattails of this good press, the agency executed its “Opposites” campaign in 2010 that used iconic word pairings with a black/white color scheme. The goal of this campaign was to extend the concept with simple visuals and to add color and positive messaging. Talk about an effective campaign: the ads promote both LAMTA’s services and the negative qualities of private vehicle use. Transit is not just about mobility, its a lifestyle.
Surprised that the NYC subway logo didn’t make either list – one can travel to the far ends of the earth and find a person who would recognize the subway logos in a heartbeat. That, however, may be the result of New York City’s branding efforts over the decades, and not so much MTA’s.
What transit logos do you think are great? Not great? Please feel free to share ones in your neighborhood!