April 1st 2011 witnessed the ‘death’ of one of the most enduring logos of transit and of the region. The ‘double -M’, ‘wiggly worm’ or ‘plumbers nightmare’ has been the defining visual identity for buses, trains and trams alike for the best part of forty years. The newly branded Transport for Greater Manchester has adapted the logo to be more curvy and friendly and arguably distorted the clarity of the original.
The ‘double-M’ came into use in 1974 following another April 1st transition and the creation of Greater Manchester and the GMC. It is said to have been one of the most widely deployed transport logos in the country and as an attempt to visually unify the newly formed county was applied to train related infrastructure as well as that of the bus network. Whilst the application of the logo and its development as a brand lay with the GMPTE and their in house publicity team, the logo was actually designed by Ken Hollick, a London designer. Design Research Unit (DRU) were also invited to submit proposals at the same time. The orange logo on a white background was to replace the SELNEC (South East Lancashire North East Cheshire) sector logos of Northern, Southern, Central, Cheshire, but not to require the full fleet to have new livery. SELNEC had only been formally constructed in 1968, despite a 1962 report on regional transport using the same acronym.
The logo became used across the city on everything from bus stops to woolly jumpers and its application governed by the ubiquitous design manual. These documents became an essential part of company identity in the late 1960s and into the 1970s following pioneering work in the US by designers like Eliot Noyes and Paul Rand. In a relationship that spanned over a decade, Eliot Noyes’ work for petroleum giant Mobil anticipated the design of everything, from forecourt to fleet. In the UK DRU had defined British Rail’s (BR) identity with their work on the logo and font in 1965. The control over the distribution of the BR font was such that as the GMPTE rolled out their joint branding exercise with BR at local railway stations even their publicity team were denied access to the master template. Under the direction of Ken Mortimer the GMPTE team had to employ Helvetica Medium as it was the closest commercially available typeface. In fact, most of the GMPTE signage that would carry the logo was governed using principles set by DRU and their standards for BR.
Mortimer oversaw the brand’s transition in the use of colour too; from orange and white to orange, brown and white that came to characterise the GMPTE fleet of Leyland Atlantean buses. The brown was a creeping addition to the palette for the livery and perhaps started when Ken Hollick drew the first buses with the new logo with brown wheels. Following this, architects Essex Goodman & Suggitt began to utilise brown as a contrasting colour in architectural elements in their work for the GMPTE and a pair of lecturers from Stockport proposed brown as an additional colour for the livery of the new Charterline fleet. The brown and orange buses, which are somehow synonymous with the 1970s but really a product of the 1980s, were those that became visually associated with the double-M.
So the logo has not disappeared without a trace, it has been mutated into a diminished version of itself. Its full removal from all of the locations it has been applied will undoubtedly take years, in the same way that the transition from an orange background to a red one did in the previous rebranding exercise. One has to question why TFGM did not commission a full new identity for their brave new integrated transit world, but, of course, there is no longer anything new; just the remix.
© Richard Brook
This article first appeared in The Modernist issue 1 'BOLD'.