TTC’s New Years Resolution: Hire a Graphic Designer!

Happy New Year Toronto! 2007 is here … where the hell did the time go?

As my first post in the new year, I wanted to blog about a topic that I find most fascinating (especially since my parents are both in the business): branding. Specifically, the Toronto Transit Commission and branding.

TTC logo

I, like most Torontonians, have a love/hate relationship with the TTC.

For the most part, I love our transit system because when you really think about it, it’s a pretty damn good system. It does get you where you want to go – albeit not always on time, but it is one of the better ways to get around the city. I, also like many Torontoians, see the potential for the system and just wish to God the provincial and federal governments would understand the importance this transit system plays in Canada’s largest city and how much the citizens want to have a reliable, organized and modern public transit alternative to the automobile.

There is, however, one part of the TTC I wish it would pick up it’s own slack on and do something proactive about, and that’s how it positions itself and brands itself to us, the riders.

I know a lot of people are sick and tired of hearing about branding these days. It seems like everything you see, touch, smell, hear … you name it, it has a brand attached to it. We live in a brand-recognizable world – no doubt about that. But the TTC doesn’t seem to understand that.

Complaint number 1
Their website has GOT to go. I’m sorry, but for the largest urban public transit system in Canada and one of the largest in North America … the TTC website is appaling. I think someone threw this site together at least 10 years ago and they kind of forgot about it – other than to post new banner images and update the construction information. I can only cross my fingers and hope that the TTC knows this and has put into the budget a major MAJOR website overhaul. There is nothing from this site that I would keep – best to start from scratch and we’ll just conveniently forget about the old site. Here are some thoughts on what could be improved:

  • RSS feeds: easier way and more convenient to find out about service disruption / construction projects
  • Google maps or equivalent: Ian Stevens at has put together an amazing transit map of Toronto. How is it that one guy can put something like this together on his laptop, but a massive organization like the TTC can’t? And let’s add a trip planner while we’re at it, shall we? How nice would that be?
  • Consistency. Basically, the TTC website is a facade. The bulk of the information is held on the City of Toronto’s website. I can understand this as it’s a City service, but personally, I think the TTC should have it’s own site independent of the City of Toronto’s website. It can still be hosted on the City’s server, but let’s give the TTC some respect and give it a little home online? The Montréal Metro has it’s own website

Complaint number 2
TTC Poster 1Would the TTC please, please do something about their advertising design? It is horrible! It looks as if they had some high school intern (no offence to them) throw it together the day it had to go to print! Talk about lack of branding. Next time you’re on the bus, streetcar or subway, take a look at the advertising the TTC has. Sometimes they have ads next to one another – there is nothing consistent about them. The logo could be in the bottom left hand corner in one and right hand centred in the next. One might use the “Ride the Rocket” slogan, while the other would say “The Better Way” …

I just get so frustrated.

I’m sure most commuters are even aware that there is such inconsistencies in the advertising, and sure, in the grand scheme of things, it’s a small point to make. BUT, in the grand scheme of things, consistent branding and good advertising will give the every day rider a sense of unity within the organization, a sense that there isn’t a million different voices trying to tell them the same message in a variety of ways, but one consistent voice – one that they will eventually learn to trust.

A consistent brand goes a long way with customers. But the TTC has been all over the map when it comes to marketing and branding.

Complaint number 3
Ugly TTC shirtWhat is up with the Transit Stuff™ store at Union Station? What is up with the clothing and apparel offered? Who buys that stuff? It is the most unappealing merchandise ever. Why doesn’t anyone at the TTC get it? New York and London have been doing it for years – and doing it well. At Grand Central Station you can buy t-shirts (like I did!) with the F Train From Queens to Brooklyn printed on the front … it’s simple, recongizable, and well done. The London Underground is a huge success I would say because everyone knows the Underground. Coming up with t-shirts that say “Toronto’s Underground” – lame. There isn’t even a mention of the Transit Stuff™ (who came up with that name?!) store on their website.

TTC T-shirt design from Torontoist.comLet’s get something good going like the t-shirts that were designed over at the Torontoist. These t-shirts, designed by Marc Lostracco, are simply brilliant. So brilliant in fact that I bought one at the Canzine literary fest at the Gladstone back in November (I think – or was it October?). I bought the escalator design for those of you who are interested. The response to these designs proves to the TTC that there are those of us out there who would jump at the chance to buy TTC swag – provided that it was done well and in such a way that made it desireable to buy. Designs like these allow Torontonians, the TTC’s number 1 customer, to all share in a city-wide inside joke! Tourists may catch on and buy the shirts and take them back to their cities where they would certainly get noticed thus creating a word-of-mouth campaign where the TTC becomes internationally recongizable.

On the topic of swag – the Spacing buttons we all know and love would be a wonderful little money maker for them. They cost next to nothing to create and would have been such a wonderful way for the TTC to market to us riders.

Whether or not the TTC gets it, we riders do pride our system and want to be able to spread the word to others in the city, tourists, and the rest of the world. These ideas are most likely at the bottom of the TTC’s priority list, and I’m not the first to write about it – but something needs to be done. I’m even willing to lend my design skills to them to help create some brand strategies and develop a few ads that are consistent and, oh, here’s a thought, let’s market to those who don’t use the system! Most of the advertising you see in the city is in or on TTC property. Let’s market out of town a bit and get those 905-ers interested in using public transit. I really think that a little thought and a little planning will go a long way in helping with their Ridership Growth Strategy.

And that’s my two cents for tonight …


8 Responses to TTC’s New Years Resolution: Hire a Graphic Designer!

  1. I enjoyed your rant. I have a video you may be interested in around Seattle’s new “brand” the tagline of which is “Metronatural”. You are gonna love this!

  2. Blair F says:

    Metronatural … a mouthful for sure. Interesting to see how that pans out – especially after our CVB Tourism Toronto launched that god awful Toronto Unlimited brand last year … ugh!

  3. A mouthful… it took me a minute, but I get it!

  4. 10th Way says:

    You are dfinitely right, they must hire a good web/graphic designer ASAP!

  5. This is very nice and informative post. I have bookmarked your site in order to find out your post in the future.

  6. Blair F says:

    Thanks for the comment!

  7. Ashley Lee says:

    Wonderful insight. Hopefully this year i will be able to keep my new years resolution lol. Have a Merry Christmas tommorow and keep up the good work on tge blog!

  8. I hate new years i can never ever keep my resolution! On a a merry not have a Merry Christmas tommorow!

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