Transit Standards: Branding, Design & Graphics

Brand & Graphics Standards


If we do not define our brand, others will define it for us. We must be certain about what we stand for and claim it at every touch point.

California Transit Association
  • 77 Ways to Design the Letter ‘M’ – Eric Jaffe, CityLab, on how mass transit agencies around the world make the letter M distinctive, memorable, and recognizable in logos used throughout their cities.
  • A Sign Systems Manual – Alan Fletcher Archive, on Crosby/Fletcher/Forbes design system for the ocean liner QE2.
  • AirTrain – Brand identity and environmental graphics designed by Pentagram for the rail link connecting terminals and regional transit at New York City’s JFK and Newark Liberty International airports.
  • Annals of Small Town Life: The Logo Stops Here – Jessica Helfand tells the story of Lucille McGinnis, who created the conditions for the iconic NH logo designed by Herbert Matter for the New Haven Railroad.
Herbert Matter’s Logo Design Process for the New Haven Railroad
London’s Roundel transit logo is world-famous, but in the early 20th Century, the city had a competing diamond logo. In 1933, the diamond began to disappear as the Metropolitan Railway was absorbed into the forerunner to today’s Transport for London.

Digital Strategy

  • BART Media Resources – BART, the regional transit system in the San Francisco Bay Area, maintains a set of media resources for covering public transit that are especially useful because of the section covering the way suicides are reported in the media. BART addresses the issue with great sensitivity, noting, “The way suicides and train strikes are reported in the media can either cause suicides or prevent suicide.”, and offers a set of recommendations for responsible reporting.
  • Digital Currencies And Credit Cards Have Subways To Thank For Their Existence – Laurie Winkless, Forbes contributor, tells the story of transit’s influence in developing new payment systems whose impact is felt far beyond urban travel.
  • 9 Basic Principles of Responsive Web Design – Sandijs Ruluks, Froont, explains the fundamental principles of building a website that gracefully scales to any screen size. Not transit-specific, but an essential resource for anyone building a transit website.
  • Digital Transformation at SBB – Swiss Federal Railways digital transformation strategy and accomplishments in three areas: improving interaction with customers, increasing internal efficiency, and capacity management.
MBTA’s user guides help people who are new to transit, or new to the Boston area, navigate the region’s subway, train, and bus services.
Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) provides specific guidance on a nearby alternate bus route while service on the L Pink Line is disrupted by a mechanical problem.
MetroTransit gives Minneapolis transit riders clear, useable information on where to board eastbound Green Line trains during a service change caused by a vehicle blocking tracks.
Brad Ross, former Executive Director of Communications at the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) uses simple, customer-friendly language to help riders use alternate transit options during a service disruption.
BART includes maps showing alternate service options near BART stations during a service outage caused by a track fire.
BART’s “This is our reality.” Tweet went viral because it broke the usual mold, and told customers why the system needed investment to keep up with growing ridership.
BART’s refreshing frankness is an asset in connecting with customers.
BART engages customers in decision-making about what information to provide in platform-level display cases.
  • The Web is a Customer Service Medium – Paul Ford, PostLight, makes the case that the Web is best used as a customer service medium, instead of a publishing medium. Not transit-specific, but essential for understanding how the Web can be used to enhance transit customer experience.
As Customer Advocate for NJ Transit’s thousands of customers, Stewart Mader made in-person interaction a priority, joining customers in stations and on buses and trains to see customers experience firsthand.
The CTA used its new website and a social media strategy including promotion by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to highlight the #YourNewBlue Program of track and station upgrades between Grand and O’Hare stations to improve customer experience.
  • Welcome to this new website – Montréal STM built a page to introduce customers to its new website, with video explainers for new real-time bus location and schedule info, FAQ, and a place to share feedback.

Map Design

  • A New Way to Look at Transit – SEPTA redesigns its bus maps.
  • Are Our Transit Maps Tricking Us? – Jessica Gross, CityLab, explores the impact of transit map design on the ways people move throughout cities.
  • Design Longevity: New York City Subway Map – In a 2007 interview, Gothamist asked Michael Hertz, designer of the New York City Subway Map, “What is the one thing that you are most proud of about your 30-year-old design?”
  • European Bus Maps : the State of the Art – Jug Cerovic, on techniques used in European bus maps to represent service types, lines, and frequency.
  • Flying Colours – Austria’s ÖBB national railway and Wiener Linien collaborate to incorporate ÖBB’s S-Bahn lines in specially marked in green and vintage pink on all transit maps, including the rapid connection map, the “overhead map” on underground doors and the Vienna metropolitan area public transit map.
  • Hartford Line – Map depicting service on a new rail line connecting New Haven, CT, Hartford, CT, and Springfield, MA shows how Connecticut is developing a transit ‘spine’ through the center of the state. Bus rapid transit is included as well, and the “one ticket, any train” policy and messaging is an excellent way to ensure a smooth customer experience.
  • Map Assessment for AC Transit – Jarrett Walker + Associates prepared a comprehensive map assessment for AC Transit that addresses the role of the map in public information, types of distinctions to be made among services, detail/accuracy vs. clarity/ease-of-use, design choices, and testing sample maps with customers.
  • Meet Harry Beck, the genius behind London’s iconic subway map – Amar Toor, The Verge, looks at how Harry Beck created the London Underground map, now considered one of the most iconic and influential transit maps.
Michael Bierut Explains The Genius of the London Tube Map

Customer Experience & Wayfinding

The MBTA’s wayfinding and signage system emphasizes inclusion by placing signage at decision points where accessible, ambulatory, and combined customer journeys diverge or meet.
LA Metro uses video to take customers behind the scenes of work to connect the Green Line and Crenshaw/LAX Line.
Stewart Mader profiled frontline NJ Transit staff at the Port Authority Midtown Bus Terminal who keep more than 1,200 bus departures moving every evening.
Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) takes customers behind the scenes with a visual of maintenance work, as well as a plug for employment opportunities.
  • Mod Desire – Onastasia Yousef, Pittsburgh City Paper, on Pittsburgh’s trolley disguised as public art, designed by Diana Riddle of Pittsburgh-based Peter Muller-Munk Associates (MMA). MMA also designed the NJ Transit graphic standards system and manual in 1981.
  • Munich Transport Corporation: FAQ – MVG, the Munich Transport Corporation, answers questions that help customers understand topics like priority signaling to keep buses moving in traffic, the increased passenger capacity of open-gangway subway trains, and the ongoing maintenance necessary to keep the city’s transit fleet running.
  • National advertising effort needed by local transit agencies – Ethan Goffman, MobilityLab, suggests that transit agencies might benefit from pooling some resources to mount a national advertising campaign focused on the benefits of swapping the car for the train, or bus.
  • New Standards for New York’s Underground – Steven Heller, PRINT Magazine, reviews the MTA’s new system for communicating with customers about planned work.
New York City Transit shares information on planned service changes via social media using a visual layout that matches the design and information architecture of posters displayed in stations.
New York City Transit uses photos to show customers what was accomplished during weekend work on subway lines.
Västtrafik, a Swedish transit provider, appeals to people with ads that apply some of the best themes of car commercials to transit: tight shots of a fast drive through stunning natural scenery, closeups of aerodynamic curves, and the allure of a test drive.
Get Out (The Streetcar Song) by Kansas City’s Kemet Coleman was filmed in collaboration with the Kansas City Streetcar Authority to promote the new KC Streetcar.
TfL uses a night-sky themed campaign to advertise new night service on the London Overground.
LA Metro Bike Share uses smart branding and messaging on social media to attract new riders with a $2 Tuesdays promotion.
  • The Amazing Psychology of Japanese Train Stations – Allen Richarz, CityLab, writes that the nation’s famed mastery of rail travel has been aided by some subtle behavioral tricks, including calming mood lighting on platforms, pleasing musical pieces composed specifically to replace the jarring buzzer used to signal departing trains, and use of shisa kanko, or point-and-call, by conductors to increase workplace safety.
  • The psychological tricks TfL uses to make London’s tube feel faster – Nicole Kobie, Wired, looks at all the experiments and trials underway throughout London’s Underground network to improve passenger flow and customer experience.
  • The Psychology of Getting People to Take Public Transit – Christine McLaren, Metropolis, says, “It’s not enough for public transportation to be efficient. It needs to be enjoyable, fun, better than the alternative. Public transportation needs to be sexy.”
TfL previews The New Tube for London, the next-generation train that will run on the Piccadilly, Bakerloo, Central, and Waterloo & City lines, with an ad that shows the train in action.
LA Metro collaborated with Los Angeles Football Club and professional soccer player Latif Blessing to make an ad showing fans how to beat congestion by trading the car for the train.
TfL promotes access for all by sharing its work with the Alzheimer’s Society to educate employees about how to recognize and assist customers who may be suffering from dementia.
Transport for London (TfL) uses simple, inclusive language to share news of system improvements.
BART uses clear graphics to convey rail service outages for track work, and display alternate bus service.
CTA breaks the line to show a track outage for construction, and links the affected stations with a dashed strip indicating a free transfer to a shuttle bus “bridge”.

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