My mother had to match my clothes when I was a kid, and even then, she was only marginally successful. I would still somehow manage to slip out the door wearing nothing but a bright red T-shirt and oversized Power Rangers boxer shorts. My problem was that I loved so many things, and so many colors, that I wanted to wear all of them, all the time.
I have read of many graphic designers who mix with a color palette before making a brand. I believe the people behind Pierce Transit’s “look” were just the sort of designers. There is no problem with that, but I’m afraid that those who dressed up Tacoma, Washington’s buses did so like a 3rd grader with a low attention span.
Let’s start with the logo itself.
Not altogether horrendous, but it does have a great many problems.
First, the logo is far too busy. With every letter consisting of several lines, this would even appear busy if it were all on a single line. However, this problem is compounded by the fact that the words appear on two lines, with a fraction of normal spacing between them. The front silhouette of the bus, which I’m sure was intended to appear iconic, nearly blends in with the rest. Glance at this logo, and you won’t remember a thing – it’s just a solid block of lines.
If you were to remove the bus, the letters evoke train tracks – a semi-futuristic sans serif font, with bold, parallel lines. It looks like the logo on a child’s train set.
The bus is altogether confusing. At first glance, it looks like another letter on the end of Pierce (an A, perhaps?). In and of itself, it has little to no defining or stylistic characteristics. What syling it does have is inconsistent with the text – completely blocky, lacking all curves. This logo, in its entirety, needs to be scrapped.
Moving on to signage…
If that doesn’t remind you of a fourth grader’s sharpied lunch pail, nothing will. The text on the top portion is a completely different font from the logo (good thing, because if it wasn’t, it would be entirely unreadable), which clashes even more awkwardly with the bus icon. The curves on the top are simple enough, and while it squeezes the text in the middle in a very unsatisfying manner, they are forgivable. At least they are consistent in color.
The sign below that looks like someone ate a care-bear and just couldn’t hold it down. Retro-ish color stripes of not-quite-a-spectrum are at two different orientations, and provide such messy visuals that people will either stare at it for ages to try to figure it out, or dismiss it entirely. Unforgivably, the green, blue, and orange in the spectrum are not nearly consistent with the other color branding. The “go!” will be remarked upon later.
The silhouettes crowd the image profusely, and don’t provide a consistent message either. Are those two on the bottom right holding basketballs, or pom-poms? Why are the two top corners trying to kick the logo? Is that guy throwing a block in the air? Oh wait, that’s the icon.
Long story short, this poster reminds me of my Power Rangers boxer shorts.
This seems more consistent with the rest of the branding, but still makes my eyes ache. Notice “the way to go!” in the bottom right? This is the tagline that PT throws around all over the place. There’s nothing wrong with it in and of itself, other than the near piracy of the ebay! logo. The problem is that it throws off all branding consistency. The tagline notably lacks all capital letters, yet, the sign is filled with them. The tagline is playful, offset, and utilizes different sizes and font families. The sans-serif on the rest of the poster is cold, professional, and understated (read: boring).
The buses themselves…
The buses themselves just may be the worst part of PT’s branding. The buses are busy in all the wrong places, leaving awkward negative space in places that might benefit from being highlighted (the doors, for example). The colors are nearly centered under the adspace, detracting from the ads, and defeating the purposes of both. The text at the top is broken up and distorted by the shape of the bus itself, which leads me to believe that the designer came up with all of this on a very flat piece of paper, and never took the time to apply it to the focal point of his design.
My biggest problems with the bus, however, are the front and back. The back of the bus looks nearly identical to the photo above. This completely destroys the cognitive model of the color.
If you have a bus that is colored halfway up, it will make the most visual sense if that color is at the same level on all sides – it looks like a fish tank halfway full of water, or a block that was dipped in paint.
The color on the PT buses has no cognitive model. The same green dip is at the top on the back and front of the bus. The only that this would make sense is if the below color band was applied to the bus. Imagine looking at the back right corner of the bus. On the back, you see a green dip. Immediately next to it, on the side, is white space until it reaches an arbitrary point in the middle, at which it dips down again. It’s confusing, which muddles up a mental model, which makes the buses unmemorable.
The interior… oh, the interior…
The Pierce Transit designer must have been color blind, or didn’t communicate at all with the person who designed the inside of the buses. Take a look at the upholstery:
There are several different colors in that fabric. It’s not a bad choice… hard to stain, busy enough to fade into a visual background, and not entirely unpleasant.
But… where did those colors come from? Scroll up and look at the bus colors. You see this color scheme on the outside, and then you walk into the bus, and it’s like you’re on a different planet. It’s disrupting, disorientating, and foreign.
Scroll up again and look at the signage. Now we have 3 separate color schemes. 3 entirely different schemes! Within 20 feet of each other at a PT bus stop! I could have only done worse if i picked polka dot knee socks to go with my boxers.
Here, however, is the coup de grace:
Walking to my girlfriend’s house after getting off the bus, I remembered seeing similar color patterns before.
Oh, that’s right.
How to do things right
Pick a consistent color scheme. Have a font, or an absolute maximum of two. Use consistent capitalization. Have simple and notable shapes and themes. Hire the guy who designed Sound Transit:
The slight tilt to the text is brilliant – it evokes the notion of speed. I’ve often said that the best logos are those that look good in single shade black & white, which this one does. It is distinct, recognizable, and sleek. Now take a look at their signage:
Two colors, consistent to a color pallette. The colors themselves, and the logo, is reflected on the bus. Simplistic enough to be memorable and invite passersby to look, it’s fantastically designed. Everything about it conveys professionalism, efficiency, and speed – who wouldn’t want a bus service like that? Contrast the sound transit sign with the horrendous PT sign immediately above.
The colors are consistent with all of the branding, signage, and the blue is maintained on all sides of the bus, much like the water in a fish tank. The adspace, while not taken advantage of on this particular bus, is left blank, which allows the advertisement to grab the viewers’ attention. It is immediately recognizable, memorable, and simple. The waves are immediately below the windows, yet above the tires, and at the same height as the front windshield – this designer clearly looked at the shape of the buses before she decided on a design.