Sign guides

Design Week; 16th June 2011

Source LondonFrom London to Dubai to Bangalore, effective signage and identity designs are playing an important role in the success or failure of urban transport systems. Tom Banks casts an eye over some of the latest developments.

Seen by city-dwellers every day and often taken for granted, identity designs for urban transport systems need to be visible, comprehensible and practical while linking into a wider system where possible, experts say.

Last month, branding by Uffindell was unveiled for the new electric vehicle network Source London, a Transport For London initiative that will see 1300 charge points appear across London over the next two years.

Accessible and ’recognisable in any language’, Uffindell managing director Sholto Lindsay-Smith says it is ’a direct representation of what the service offers’. Lindsay-Smith says the brand’s green colourway won’t be confused with any other eco brands as ’it will have a huge presence and doesn’t have to compete with anything as it’s not a product’.

Barclays Cycle HireUffindell, which is on the TFL roster, inherited the name Source London from Minale Tattersfield, another TFL-rostered group which was earlier charged with naming and carrying out some scoping work for the brand. Minale Tattersfield is also the group behind the branding and 3D designs of the Barclays Cycle Hire Scheme, which launched last year.

Minale Tattersfield’s London managing director Marcello Minale says that the Cycling system is not branded in the traditional sense but is recognisable from its 3D bike and totem designs, while the blue symbol is part of the TFL brand family.

Working closely with TFL and taking into account the Legible London mapping system designed by Applied Information Group, Minale Tattersfield worked within the TFL colour palette, using a light blue on dark, to create an identity which ’is identifiable, references the light blue of Barclays and communicates to stakeholders’, according to Minale.

The TFL family of symbols, which now takes in the bike scheme, is reversible so works in 3D. This is a vital trait, according to Transport Design Consultancy managing director Tony Howard, who says it can also be said of the National Rail symbol and many others.

Howard suggests that the new Someone-designed Eurostar brand is photography-heavy and wouldn’t work as well as a 3D icon. He says, ’It is rendered in a photographic style and might work in many applications, but is too complicated as a 3D symbol. It needs to be simple and visible at night; a warm glow of recognition.’

Transport Design Consultancy as its name suggests specialises in design for transport systems and has worked on the branding of both new transport systems and pervasive solutions to unite different modes of transport across a city.

Key to Howard’s strategy, he says, is practicality. He says, ’The brand/symbol has to work at a large size, on totem signs for example, but it also has to work on flags and curved bodysides of vehicles. It must be capable of being illuminated and it is always useful if the symbol shape can work in three-dimensions. It also has to work at the smallest scale on maps, tickets and timetables.’ He has also, from experience, learnt how effective brand designs of city transport systems can be overlooked.

The brand/symbol has to work at a large size but it also has to work at the smallest scale - on maps, tickets and timetable

Bangalore MetroPitching for the branding work on the new Bangalore Metro, Howard says, ’We thought we would be bidding for all the graphic design work including the brand identity, signing, wayfinding and information graphics.’ However, the client initiated a public competition, which resulted in an identity being developed by the competition-winner rather than the consultancy ’and this sort of approach rarely produces a successful design’, says Howard.

With an identity formed from local Rangoli folk art drawings, Howard says ’the idea is valid’, but it doesn’t work in all applications.

TDC has produced graphic information signs and notices in three languages, as well as a Metro map that features arterial roads and ring roads around the city as a reference point for passengers’ orientation.

Howard says, ’Local users know where these are in relation to areas of the city, but a lot of the Metro passengers will also be using interchanges with bus services as part of their overall journey so it made a lot sense to include the roads.’

Dubai MetroWhen TDC was working on the Dubai Metro brand the first Metro in the Gulf a commercial decision by the client, Dubai Roads and Transport Authority, led to the project being compromised, Howard says.

TDC planned an integrated transport system brand with ’a recognisable family of symbols’, but Howard says this gave way to a separate brand for each station, named after sponsor companies which paid for the privilege. ’The brands that have been applied to them were never designed for large-scale transport use and so do not perform very well,’ says Howard.

He adds, ’Luckily, we designed a very strong signing system, supported by a superb dual-language typeface created by Dalton Maag.’ These elements now form the identity of the system and are accompanied by a system map.

This map uses a contour of the coastline as an orientating reference point and though it is a stylised graphic, also provides relative scale accuracy for station locations. Empty space is left in the bottom right for two more Metro lines and a new international airport currently being built.

Faced with a changing and expanding city like Dubai, Howard says, ’Even Google aerial photography can’t keep up, so sometimes we have to sweet-talk engineers to see what they’re about to do.’

Tony Howard’s tips on branding city transport schemes

Visibility: the brand/symbol has be strong, simple, bold and easy to recognise from a distance

Comprehension: the brand/symbol could suggest ’transport’ in its design (typically by using circles or arrows) or at least be very easy to learn

Practicality: the brand/symbol has to work at a large size, on totem signs for example, but it also has to work on flags, curved bodysides of vehicles. It also has to work at the smallest scale on maps, tickets and timetables.

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