Manholes from one city to the next are like snowflakes: no two look the same. There is Washington, D.C.’s manhole, an octagon pattern inscribed in a circle, and Dallas’s, a flashy burst of dots and bars. And then there is Chicago’s, which features $2 well drinks and a wide assortment of gyrating gogo boys. Whoops, wrong manhole!
The other manholes–the ones we pass on the street every day but never notice–are the basis of a fresh rebranding scheme for Gilt City, the local arm of the upscale flash-sales site Gilt Groupe.
The old Gilt City brand had a generic high-end aesthetic, with lots of très chic black (the universal symbol for “fashionable”). There was nothing local about it; it could’ve been a deals site in New York or San Francisco or an ad for $500 perfume. The new look strips away all the black and offers built-in customization: Each of the brand’s 10 cities is represented by a graphic illustration of its unique manhole cover.
“Gilt City came to us looking for an overall rebrand not just of the iconography but also the look and feel of the website,” says Stephen Niedzwiecki, executive creative director of the design studio YARD. “As much as they wanted it to feel luxurious and exclusive, they still wanted an approachable feel, too.”
And what says “luxurious” and “approachable” better than manhole covers? Okay, you can probably think of a few things. But let’s hear Niedzwiecki out.
“[Gilt City] wanted to base what we came up with on this idea of ‘love your city more,'” he says. “So we wanted to create a system based on unique city iconography, while keeping in mind how Gilt has this insider access. So we started doing research in all the cities they asked us to focus on, and we started to look at what was out there from a design perspective that all these cities shared: architectural details, road signs–anything we could think they might have their own version of.”
Manholes kept springing up. Says Niedzwiecki: “I know that doesn’t sound very luxurious. But what we loved about the idea was: A manhole cover is your exclusive underground access [to a city]. It’s similar to Gilt being this unprecedented access to bars, nightlife, restaurants, and everything else they offer.”
You might think that’s a generous connotation of the word “manhole,” but I dunno–maybe the analogy is closer than even Gilt realizes. Disgusting fluids, awful smells, strange mutant creatures, terrible lighting. That’s just another Thursday night in the Meatpacking District.
[Top Image: Krivosheev Vitaly/Shutterstock, Slideshow Images: Gilt]