Since the 1970s, San Francisco’s public transit system, Muni, has carried an iconic red logo designed by branding legend Walter Landor–the creative mind behind famous logos for companies like Coca-Cola and FedEx. “I think it’s the most unique logo out of all of the transit systems in the world,” says San Francisco-based designer Derek Kim. “That is what makes Muni special.”
However the different weights of the lines on the system’s famous “worm” logo bothered Kim, who suffers from OCD, and he felt the design had started to look a bit dated. As a personal project, he decided to give Muni a 21st-century update, with a revamped logo, signage and a new mobile app design. “Once I get obsessed about something, I can’t stop thinking about it,” he tells Co.Design via email.
Muni, which encompasses San Francisco’s buses and light rail (including those old-timey streetcars) and connects the city to regional transit like BART and Caltrain, is notoriously slow–one of the slowest transit systems in the nation, actually. “For San Franciscans, complaining about what Herb Caen used to call “the Muniserable bus” stands somewhere between a pastime and a religion,” as SF Weekly wrote a few years back.
Kim’s design features artists’ designs on Muni’s Fast Pass fare cards, and evocative pictograms for different stops, like the Civic Center, South of Market or Embarcadero. The condensed font Muni signage uses right now, a version of Univers, isn’t ideal for signs, since it’s a little hard to read, so he updated to Avenir, a font already used in signs helping people find their way through the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport and the Hong Kong International Airport.
After he made his redesign idea public, Kim was contacted by representatives from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, who liked the project, though they don’t have any plans to enact it. Getting his design slapped on a bus wasn’t his main goal, anyway. “I wouldn’t want the city to spend tax dollars on a purely aesthetic refresh,” he says, noting that improving service should be the first priority. If he can call attention to some of the existing visual issues in Muni’s signage, though, and show how art can be used to serve the public good, all the better. And from a conceptual standpoint, giving Muni an aesthetic that doesn’t look like it’s stuck 40 years in the past–as the system itself so often seems to be–lets people imagine a world where they have a sleek, modern transportation network. One that runs on time.