Yet Another Muni Rebranding


Derek from Network Osaka sent us this well-thought-out collection of new designs for Muni. Derek started with the beloved Muni worm, which apparently lost its holiday weight already, and worked his way through redesigning entire vehicles, uniforms, signs, stations, and even passes.

The last time we visited a Muni redesign experiment, Robert Padbury went in an entirely different direction (and one I didn’t care for at all). I liked Jeremiah’s Muni tweak more.

Take a look at Derek’s Muni redesign page and let us know what you think.


  • That shade of bright red makes the buses look like they’re heading to Target.

  • Before anyone weighs, please consider that the least helpful feedback you can give us designers is a simple “I like it” or “I don’t like it” without explaining why. That’s when it becomes an interesting conversation and not a simply vote.

  • Here’s some observations, context, and feedback:

    – Right now Muni is using an extremely condensed version of typeface (Univers 47) which its own designer had intended for print and didn’t think was appropriate for display signage and designed a replacement (Frutiger) better suited for the task.

    – What’s being used here is Gotham, a very trendy typeface right now, but the regional transportation planning group is using Frutiger for new signage throughout the Bay Area. That includes the mezzanine levels of the downtown BART stations. So if the point is to use a distinctly different typeface to help distinguish Muni, then its going to be problematic the common signage, maps, and entrance signs won’t be in Muni’s font.

    – Heavily emphasizing the color red is a good way to distinguish Muni from other agencies which run to and through city. (Golden Gate Transit: orange with green, BART: blue, SamTrans: maroon and navy blue, etc.)

    – But… painting all the station walls red would make it harder to distinguish one station from one another. Especially when stopped trains will be frequently blocking some of all of the name, onboard a train you might not even have a view. Considering again what BART’s doing with the peach and purple at Montgomery and Powell (while Muni is currently using red and blue) it would help for those who use both systems to carry these colors over in design elements on the Muni level. A quick example of how that could work would be to keep the colors for the trim but paint the platform walls black instead of white.

    – Distinctly different station designs and, very importantly it be with this, consistent signage can include other elements of the neighborhoods identity to help riders figure out where they are. This is the very same reason for creating iconography taken a step further. A rainbow would be a good way to visually represent the Castro.

    – Placing the “outbound” sign higher up allows you to see it from across the platform even with stopped trains. They could be placed more frequently, and alternate between the direction, station name, and emergency exit signs.

    – Displaying routes on the signs as boxes with the numbers/letters emphasized in a larger font size makes them much easier to read at a distance. The current signs have larger numbers, but don’t have the space them around them (white space or negative space) that makes it easy to focus on reading the number.

    I’ve got more thoughts and feedback, but I’ll leave it with that.

    • Hi Jamison.
      Wow, that’s probably one of the best comments i’ve received so far.

      All super valid points!

      1) The typeface I used isn’t Gotham. It’s Avenir. I chose Avenir due to its geometric shapes, which pairs nicely with the geometric Muni logotype I tweaked. Avenir is also fairly legible and appropriate for signage as it is also used in Hong Kong’s International Airport and Dallas/Fort Worth’s Airport. While Frutiger makes sense to use in a signage situation, Frutiger has been overused to the point of feeling like Gotham (where everyone is using it). I thought Avenir might be an appropriate choice so that the transit system has a unique typeface from most transit systems.

      2) Red was the natural choice! Not to be biased, but I love red too!

      3) I agree that there could be better ways of identifying the stations. But then again, this was a quick exploration and if I had more time to expand this concept, I would’ve inserted iconography to each station as well (kind of what the Mexico City Metro does with their stations… as a matter of fact, Lance Wyman was a big influence in this brand refresh). Your thoughts on the color bands for the stations “might” create some confusion with regards to what trains run through the station; let’s not forget Muni Metro has a color coding system for the N, J, T, S, trains, etc.

      4) Yes! I wish I had the time to create all icons for all neighborhoods. That was the plan, to create icons for each neighborhood that talk about a distinct feature of its culture (the SoMa icon stems from the fact that there are a lot of tech startups in that area, hence the microchip)

      5) Agreed with the outbound point!

      6) Good point on that, there’s definitely room for improvement. I was basing off my concept from various systems around the world (especially the London Transport sign system)

      Thanks again on your thoughts of my work!
      It’s really awesome to hear constructive criticism.

      PS: This exercise isn’t meant as a rhetorical call to action for SFMTA. That would be unwise of the agency to spend money on such a thing rather than improving their service. However, I think these are things to be considered if they do decide to work on it later on in the future when they have solved the rest of their issues.

      • I’m glad to know the feedback is appreciated,

        By profession I do user experience designer and by hobby I spent five years on the SFMTA advisory council along with two years on the board of the Market Street Railway. I even been included in a few stakeholder groups relating to transit signage and messaging design. I know quite a bit about Muni, design constraints, and background if you ever want to discuss it in greater detail.

        I don’t mean that to stop the conversation here, so with regard to the color-coding Muni Metro, not all of trains have classic roll signs and for (I think is was more than half) every line will be shown in the color of LCD. That has only been recently, the curtain signs used to have the routes colored in green for the KLM and green for the J and N based on the tunnel portal the used. I’d be curious what you would do if you could re-alocate colors elsewhere.

        I did just that on my own concept for re-organizing SF/Oakland serving rail under an umbrella brand. I didn’t actually try to create the brand itself and just called in “Metro” because I was trying to solve a UX problem with BART and Muni reusing colors each other use for their lines one maps, but neither actually uses the color names in auditory announcements or messaging. Barcelona is a good example I’ve experienced where several different companies and agencies run different lines, but they all share a map consistent terminally. You could definitely tell who’s line you were on, but it didn’t make it feel any less part of the same overall system system.

        Many people have suggesting agencies would run better if they were merged, but it may be best each stick to their own specialty and instead focus on presenting them as a unified service. Something that would have to happen if they were merged anyway. So I what I’ve done is folded individual routes into color coded lines. The JKLMN which share Market Street are rename from “line” to “branches” of the Orange Line. BART only has three core lines, with two additional branches which only run week days. I just represent that more accurately with branches of my Blue and Green lines. The messaging isn’t all the big a switch sense BART announces lined by designation.

        There’s a lot more detail and explanation on my own blog post. Much of it would just be policy changes that could be rolled out in the 2018 time frame when both BART and Muni have to replace signs, maps, announcements and other info anyway.

        It would be interesting to see how someone might handle that branding challenge, but it also solves all my concerns about Muni having a different typeface that will conflict with Frutiger in the shared stations with the, Muni operated (perhaps SFMTA branded instead for a complete break from Muni) Orange and Red lines and stations would all go Frutiger, while all Muni branded services could adopt Avenir so the different fonts really do work to distinguish Muni from Metro rail service.

        • Hey Jamison, I’d love to connect with you outside of this forum to talk more about this. It seems like you’re passionate about what you talk about and you clearly pay attention to the issues at hand with regards to the current Muni design standards.

          I’d love to collaborate with you on any potential projects that arise from this exercise.

          Contact me here:

  • chris

    I’ve got an even better idea that has nothing to do with colors: how about we stop the well-intentioned but incredibly dumb practice of making the LED route kiosks on Muni busses double as indoctrination engines?

    You know, the ones that flash “GO NINERS!” or “Marriage Equality For All!” 50% of the time when they should be displaying, oh I don’t know, maybe the actual bus# and route info 100% of the time?

    Does Muni really think this practice is making a sociopolitical impact in a city that OBVIOUSLY embraces the Niners and marriage equality, not to mention the Giants, legalized pot, more bike lanes, affordable health care yada yada yada? The list goes on and on.

    My point is that while you are (somewhat rightfully) geeking out about color palette as it applies to information usability, you are overlooking a MUCH bigger impact on information usability: the impact of actual, relevant INFORMATION on information usability as opposed to feel-good municipal brand statements reverse engineered to make Muni management and/or the SF board of supervisors LOOK good as opposed to BEING good.

    The same goes for the 70’s era and largely useless LED kiosks at BART stations. You know, that ones that helpfully remind us to watch our belongings and to check out various transit related websites that NO RIDER HAS EVER VISITED?!?

    Yeah, those. Really, all I want to see is a listing of the next N trains + ACCURATE arrival estimates, you guessed it, 100 PERCENT OF THE TIME.

    Anyway, thanks for letting me rant and keep up the good work. I like this blog even more than I like public transit vehicles that display useful information.


  • Gordon

    It’s a nice interesting redesign, but certain things are just not practical, such as the pattern on top of the bus. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to brand specific buses, the way the Nx had its blue Gilligs, since buses are always being shifted around to different routes to make up for shortages since Muni has such shoddy bus maintenance. So you could easily see a bus that’s supposed to be for a regular route on an express bus, and vice versa.

  • @Gordon it isn’t true that its impractical to brand busses. It works for the NX precisely because it does have a dedicated fleet. Los Angeles Metro colors codes their busses (red for express, orange and green for limited and local) so there’s so limits, but with only three colors there are reserves in each color.

    If Muni were to do the same thing, the entire trolley bus fleet would be painted in the local scheme. So would the Metro train fleet.

    I do agree the patterns aren’t that practical though, but because they are to subtle and abstract to really be that helpful.

  • Dexter Wong

    The Landor worm goes on a diet!

  • Bill Craven

    I like many aspects of this, not least of which is freeing Muni employees from brown polyester clothing. Those red jackets are amazing!

    I really like the neighborhood iconography; I would figure out how to incorporate that into the bus headers and signage in a legible way. I don’t often board outbound on Market Street, but adding destination neighborhood information (along with route numbers) would help everyone decide whether the next bus coming is the one they want even if they don’t have the route numbers memorized. Since there’s no particular logic to the numbering scheme on Muni, having a scrolling display of neighborhoods along the route would be really helpful.

    • Consider signage as a system with different elements for vehicles and stops. Loading up the bus header with more information and iconography would actually make it harder to use the system. I’m going to get very nerdy about how a wayfinding system works here.

      There’s more, but a trip begins at a stop where the sign can provide the information about which lines serve which neighborhood, the icons can even be placed in order so a waiting can even get a sense of distance by how many icons come between here and their destination. The important thing is having time while waiting to make the connection between which lines serve the neighbor and the number of the bus.

      It doesn’t so much matter what number it is as the fact waiting customers have the chance to be pretty confident they’ve worked that (for example) either the 30 or 45 will get them to chinatown. Have a name based on primary corridors adds a secondary piece of identifying information for confirmation. The decision making process goes something like:

      “I’m trying to get to chinatown there’s the chinatown icon shown with the lines numbered 30 or 45 so I can wait and look for a bus with the number 30 and I can be doubly sure because the 30 is called the 30-Stockton and the 45 is named 45-Stockton/Union which matches my phone’s maps app which shows Stockton runs through Chinatown”

      For dyslexics like me (up to 10% of the population) number and words easily get confused, not with each other though so where I might misunderstand the number, I might not have a problem with the name.

      The final piece of critical info as you point out the destination is better when frames as the neighborhood. The iconography and information on the sign at the stop (perhaps with a map too) lets me visually see the final neighborhood’s icon and name so I know which neighborhood to be looking for. But other information I can work out from the sign, including the fact that 45 and 30 busses at this stop are going in a single direction, so customers can just ignore that piece of information. The sign can also prominently show the icon so anyone passing by, even if they aren’t riding Muni, get a subtle confirmation which neighborhood their in. For someone onboard the bus, that large icon on the sign says to this is or isn’t your stop.

      You’re right about using the destination neighborhood instead of exact intersection to help make it easier to figure out direction. Transport for London does a lot of research have “Towards Neighborhood” as their standard and the signs again give the more precise location within the neighborhood.

      If you got though that, does it make sense and address some of the confusion points you hit?

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