Established in 1912, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) is responsible for the transit system in the Bay Area, the seventh largest in the United States, that encompasses pedestrians, bicycling, transit, traffic and parking and regulates the taxi industry. SFMTA is responsible for the city’s popular cable cars and Muni. In April of this year, in collaboration with ImproveSF — an initiative sponsored by the City and County of San Francisco that allows anyone to contribute ideas to improve the city’s government — SFMTA launched a contest to redesign its logo as it neared its 100th year. From about 45 submissions, the judges selected a design submitted by Paul Miller, creative director at Method, Inc., one of the leading firms in San Francisco.
The contest’s brief asked for a logo that was “timeless,” that “should not be static,” “show a sense of movement,” and “should not feel machine-like.” Where most contests specify that all artwork submitted remains the property of the organizer or the beneficiary, this one would place them under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Uported License, which allows anyone to share, remix, and make commercial use of the work as long as it’s attributed — dude, I would rather have the org keep the artwork under control instead of releasing the rights to any yahoo. Like most contests, the entries ranged from the maniacally bad to the competent. Unlike other contests, however, the winner is… a pretty great logo.
Conflicts abound: does the end justify the means? Does it make it better or worse that a high-ranking employee of a well-known design firm entered, and won? Everybody has a stance on spec work — for my part, I think it’s a terrible way of arriving at good, meaningful design but I feel that whoever wants to enter it is their own problem — but in this instance, I think the gains outweighed the losses. As a business-building tool to win local projects and other transit projects, Method can now claim to have designed the logo for one of the biggest and most visible city agencies. Not bad for a project that didn’t involve dozens of meetings and client changes.
“This identity leverages the concept of paths,” Miller said. “Whether they are via foot, bike, car, or train, these paths are connected or woven. The presented mark represents a part or crop of a larger pattern which can be connected for various multi-use applications. The connection of these pattern tiles represents growth and community.”
The tag line, Moving Forward Together, he explained, “exemplifies these ideas while positioning SFMTA’s continuing future growth and progress.”
— City Insider article
On to the logo. Although technically correct, to call the old one a logo is generous, so anything that improved on the generic wordmark would be a welcome change. The new icon has a very, nice old-school construction, which is both a good and a bad thing. Bad because it seems we’ve seen it before in some shape or form in other logos. Good because it feels familiar and authoritative. It also conveys one of the other requirements of the logo, that it represent a “multi-modal transportation agency,” with the different colored bars coming together. The typography feels like an afterthought, not quite blending in with the icon. Overall, it’s hard to disagree that the improvement is for the benefit of SFMTA, even if the process to get there wasn’t the right one.