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

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

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 …


First post and I’m not even in TO

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Strange that I would find myself outside the country and starting a blog about my home town, Toronto. Maybe I needed to be away from Toronto to write about it. Maybe reading uTOpia has pushed me to put my views online about the city where I live. Maybe … maybe, I just wanted to start a blog and see if I could maintain it.

Other failed attempts have come before, but this WordPress thing looked too good to pass up, so I thought – hey, why not give it a whirl and see what happens!

I’m currently in Watermill, New York just outside of Southampton visiting my grandmother and some extended family before Christmas. I like to say that I was doing Sex and the City before Sex and the City was doing Sex and the City (try typing that ten times fast). This is my second home … the house in which my grandmother lives was built the year I was born (easy for her to keep track of my age!). I feel a special connection to this place and love coming down as often as I can.

But this blog wasn’t put up to talk about Long Island … no, this blog is about Toronto – but it’s also about Toronto in relation to other cities – like New York.

It’s not fair to compare the two cities in my opinion – they’re apples and oranges. I hated New York when I was a kid. Perhaps it was my anti-American sentiment setting in … being half American was not something I was particularly proud of as a child – I was a staunch nationalist to my Canadian heritage. But growing older and wiser now I’ve come to appreciate New York. My thoughts on America in general would require another blog completely, and I’m not going to get into those politics right now – no offence to my family of course. 🙂

But Toronto seems to be striving to be like New York now – why is that? Yonge and Dundas are looking more and more like a cheap rip-off of Times Square! And now that the monstrosity known as Metropolis is finally being built after eons of hoarding covering up the north-east corner of Yonge and Dundas, we will soon be subjected to even MORE advertising blaring down on the citizens who just want to relax on Yonge-Dundas Square – if that is at all possible. We even have our own discount ticket booth on the Square (T.O.TIX) like in Times Square. That’s not such a bad thing – at least there’s a bit of culture infiltrating the tsunami of advertising.

On a side note: it’s interesting to me that in the midst of all the talk of energy crisis’ happening in Toronto and the fact that we’re going to need more power in the coming years and the Province decides to build a coal-power plant right smack dab on our waterfront (brilliant idea) … that developers are allowed to push for more signage and more electronic screens to blast nothing but Loreal cosmetic ads at us from above …

Times Square grew organically. Yes it’s an assault on the senses now, but it all started way back when. It didn’t pop up out of nowhere. To me, Yonge and Dundas now seems like it’s a hydroponics greenery plopped into the middle of an organically grown garden … if that makes any sense. I’m not against what’s happened to the area – I think it’s great that we have an open square like YD Square, and I think it’s finally finding its feet and weaving itself quite nicely into the fabric of downtown. But I believe Toronto could have done far more interesting things with the architecture, integrated the surrounding culture in better, created something really worth visiting. At least in Times Square there is always something going on. Walking up to Yonge and Dundas on any given night results in bright lights blinking banal information at you … and not too many people particularly caring about it. Where are the comfortable cafes to go and grab a quick coffee in? Think about it – there’s no where around that area that one can take a load off in – relax for a bit. It keeps you moving and effectively moves you out of its core because its sterile and uninviting … or pushes you into a store like the good consumerist society we are.

Having said all that … I don’t want you to think that I don’t like Toronto. I’m an avid fan of it and am becoming more and more engaged by it and the potential this young city has. It’s a frustrated teenager trying to find its place in the grand scheme of things – a bit schitzophrenic at times, but underneath it all, there’s a layer of good that’s just waiting to surface again when the hormones die down a bit. Like patient parents, we’ll just have to coax it and guide it a bit along the way.

Update: On a side note, I’d like to draw your attention to a great press release by the Toronto Environmental Alliance (TEA) in regards to the Portland Energy Plant proposed by the McGuinty Government and a more sustainable and greener plan.