Posted on Sep 18, 2008 in Weblog | 1 comment

One of the great things about rapid buses is that with introduction of rapid bus service, most transit agencies push a fresher, more hip transit marketing effort. Take Metro. I’m a big fan of their style, and it’s not undeserved: their work has won them a 10-page exposé in Communication Arts magazine’s Interactive Annual 12. In the past half decade, they completely re-designed the way their buses look with "Rapid Red" color, new articulated low-floor buses that look like they came from the future, Rapid pylons and shelters, and boosted satisfaction and brand visibility of their agency, transcending them from mere government transportation authority to bleeding-edge counterculture.

On the other hand, some transit agencies try and fail. VTA’s Rapid 522 tried to create a cool, snazzy look, but they used a hard-to-decipher typeface for their Rapid brand and a eye-gouging swirly red-blue design that fails to deliver the message that VTA is "fast and reliable." The swooshes look interesting, yes, but they don’t fit with the bus’s design nor does its darkened windows (partially occluded by the bus’s graphic design) encourage new riders to give it a try. (I’ll get off my VTA-bashing soapbox now.)

So how will OCTA’s branding fare? Things look good for Bravo! brand, but for the OCTA brand, it’s a confusing tale.

Viva — OCTA’s spiritual branding cousin in the north

It looks like the design team behind Bravo! took a cue from Viva, the bus rapid transit system run by York Regional Transit (YRT) in Ontario. Viva’s logo has a very modern typeface, it’s on the ball with kerning, and their imaginative marketing campaigns have blown me away. Their bus designs have vastly improved over the past few years and you can even spot YRT’s logo from a distance because it’s so large:

When they launched Viva, it became so popular that they applied that design to the rest of YRT’s marketing efforts. I can’t help to wonder if OCTA’s Bravo! design team could possibly unite OCTA’s confusing identity and their use of so many different logos. For example,

  • There’s the main OCTA logo, which doesn’t even appear on any of their buses.
  • Then there’s the OCTA bus logo ("Your Wheels") which doesn’t appear anywhere on OCTA’s schedules and publications.
  • The "OC Flyer" logo is used for special event service. OCTA’s advertisements exhorted riders to ride the OC Flyer to avoid traffic at the Orange County Fair this past year, for example, but there was no identifiable "OC Flyer" logo anywhere on their vehicles. In fact, "OC Flyer" never appeared on the bus headsigns.
  • What about the OCExpress?
  • And now we have the Bravo! logo.

I’m not sure what the strategy is behind diluting the OCTA brand so much. If you look at YRT or Los Angeles Metro, they have one distinct logo used on all their promotional materials. I’ve already posted on Metro’s tight coordinated public image here on how I believed transit image is everything (though now I believe both image and substance form the perfect product). OCTA needs to attract a wider audience, and the first step is by not confusing new riders with so many logos.

One color per line

Bravo! plans on naming their rapid buses as color lines (as opposed to numbered routes). This is a great marketing strategy as this gives non-riders the impression that there’s "light-rail like service" in Orange County, and it likely reduces confusion that riders might have between a local line and the rapid line, both of which use different routes. This is different from other transit agencies, which use lettered or numbered routes, or a combination of letters and numbers. I can’t tell you how many times people get confused on AC Transit when they board 40L instead of 40, or 72R instead of 72M or even 72, or don’t pay attention to the headsigns.

The idea of using colored rapid bus lines definitely takes a cue off of Viva’s colored map lines, but one problem is that OCTA might shoot themselves in the foot later when they have to add more rapid bus lines, and they run out of colors. OCTA is already proposing an expansion of rapid buses and I’m not sure what colors they will adopt. Chartreuse? Fuchsia? Light urple?

Beautiful station designs: anything is better than a bus stop sign and a pole

OCTA has all the station designs planned, from the minimalistic …

… to the large.

I personally think OCTA should go with the largest possible station designs so they are more recognizable by non-riders and drivers. This way, our driving friends can at least acknowledge the existence of Bravo!. Maximizing the station size also provides the highest degree of comfort for riders with more shade and more seating, and makes riders feel good about the Bravo! service.

Every single Bravo! station will have a digital "next bus" sign, which helps keep riders informed of any transit delays. And, as a designer, I can tell they are having as much fun as possible with the B! design. If you look closely, each station casts a B! shadow on the ground, like a spotlight calling Batman. Circles are very prominent, on the seats and the shade. Very nice touch.

So what’s the verdict?

Bravo! is a step in the right direction that could potentially help transform how people react and feel about OCTA as a whole agency, and this is especially important in a county whose culture revolves around cars — from unwalkable streets to freeway-first projects. I can’t wait to see what Bravo!’s design team comes up with next.