You can’t get more Mancunian than the Metrolink.
Metrolink is the light rail transport network of Manchester that the city relies upon. Bringing people in and out of the city centre, to and from work, there and back from football, off to the airport and back home again – there’s a lot to be admired, and while there is a lot to be improved with the daily operations (more on ticketing and speed in another post), the one thing it absolutely gets right is the branding and presentation.
In 2008, design and marketing consultancy Hemisphere crafted a new brand, and design guideline for Metrolink. This was just in time for an order of 120 new M5000 trams from Bombardier, replacing the fleet of old, failure prone T-68 vehicles. The aim was to present Metrolink in a new light, as an attractive, reliable and convenient way to travel, paving the future for the network as it doubled in size.
This new brand was going to be far reaching, affecting the smallest detail on staff uniforms to the liveries themselves – every detail had been thought of with impeccable attention to detail. The new brand features the main colours pale yellow and light silver- reflecting the city’s optimism (and no doubt its clouds). On the tram livery, the entire front section is pale yellow, with graduated yellow circles that blend into the silver of the main body, carrying a feeling of momentum and moving forwards, and cleverly using black glazed sections in-between windows to create a “band” of black running the length of the vehicle. The yellow graduated circles are repeated on the sides of the doors, clearly marking where to board. Only twice on each vehicle is the word “Metrolink” used, one on each side, at the front and back, and very understated. So iconic was the branding they obviously didn’t feel the need to plaster the word all over.
Indeed so thorough was the rebranding, it even included its own font called Pantograph Sans. TfGM, the transport body that owns Metrolink, use Pantograph Sans on their website and it looks fantastic – it’s a clear, friendly font that represents the service they aim to provide – clean, clear and simple. This font is used absolutely everywhere on Metrolink and associated services – the map, posters, information signs, printed material, even safety notices use the font. This is to me, one of the key successes of the brand, as there is nothing that shouts “this system is dysfunctional and doesn’t know what it stands for” than a multitude of fonts and different typography. This font embodies Metrolink and what it aims to be, both as a system and as an iconic part of the city. Like Manchester, it’s a friendly, no nonsense font.
The only chance you get to see the old Metrolink colours are when handrails have been worn down and only then are afforded a peek of the previous green colour.
Just recently the Metrolink map was updated- featuring the classic “City Zone” and Pantograph Sans font, but now re-introducing coloured lines and introducing numbers at the start and end of each line. Each number links a rail station, transport interchange, or key development, further attempting to unify transport in a country that, excluding London, suffers from fragmented transport.
The branding extends to platforms too – when the network was first being built in 1988, the planners chose to re-use ex-British Rail lines in an effort to save money. As a result, the whole network had high-floor vehicles and platforms that reach the exact height with minimal gap, including designated boarding points for those who need wheelchair space on a tram. The stops and shelters all continue the brand, with yellow signage, yellow handrails, Pantograph Sans everywhere (it really is only on poster adverts that you can see different fonts) and bright lighting.
Interestingly, there were a few half length platforms in the city centre, with the old trams having to use their retractable steps for access, all of which have since disappeared (for example, Mosley Street and High Street).
The branding doesn’t stop at the platforms though, all stations are marked by illuminated, bright yellow signs. These are clear and unmistakable markers that you have arrived somewhere, and that you are only a short distance away from where you want to be.
All stations, regardless of their location and age, carry off the branding exceedingly well. Even at Cornbrook, with its creepy side street entrance built into the historic arches, you have no uncertainty that you are at a transport station that is in use, open and maintained.
An interesting unspoken part of the branding relates to the major failing of buses in the United Kingdom – that they are seen as a distress purchase, something you only use if you have no other choice. This is deeply unattractive and many new operators, such as CityZap, are trying to regenerate bus travel. When rebranding Metrolink, Hemisphere had to ensure the brand didn’t look like a distress purchase, and assert that Metrolink is something that people want to use and is a mark of quality and pride. Tacky graphics were a no-go, it had to be understated and quietly joyful.
Another key part of the brand is encouraging people who don’t use the system to get on board. The signage, cohesive branding, simple ticketing, easy payment options and clear map makes it easy to figure out how to get where you want to be; just turn up and go. It’s quieter, faster and cleaner than loud, smelly, rattly buses. Metrolink runs on green energy, with 62% of it’s electricity coming from wind power, and this furthers the clean branding.
When you’re on board, the service generally is top notch – even a slight delay of a minute or two is accompanied by a polite announcement and apology from the driver – the whole package works well together.
Metrolink is an attractive way to travel around the city and to the suburbs. Its no nonsense approach is reflected in its livery and branding, and demonstrates that it a cohesive service which can be relied upon.
Mancunians and visitors alike ride “the met” with pride – from football matches and special events and as the daily workhorse – it’s there for the city. TfGM also take pride in the city – often producing livery variations, such as the Pride tram, the Gold tram for the Olympics, and the unifying Manchester Bee tram “Spirit of Manchester” following the awful attack at the Manchester Arena.
This interaction of the brand into the pride of the city furthers the relationship that Metrolink is Manchester and not just another way of transport like First Bus or Stagecoach. And it isn’t perfect by far – the smart ticketing is a total mess, trams have slowed down, and occasionally they bump into each-other. But the branding carries it off. It’s iconic.