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An interview with the designer behind Metro Transit’s new ‘Respect the Ride’ campaign

“We knew right away that we wanted to do something… to keep the campaign light and fun. … Our goal was to grab customers’ attention, perhaps make them smile, and remind them to ‘respect the ride.’”

Metro Transit

Amy Dritz is a senior graphic designer at Metro Transit.

Stubble: What was the original assignment of “Respect the Ride” when it came to your desk?

Amy: The intent of the Respect the Ride campaign was to address disrespectful behaviors happening on Metro Transit buses and trains that often lead to customer complaints. Many of these are simple courtesies like not leaving your trash behind and respecting other passengers by not blaring your music or talking too loudly on your cell phone. Others, like holding open train doors or not paying your fare, can have serious consequences. We wanted to use the campaign to raise general awareness of Metro Transit’s rules and Code of Conduct so that everyone can have a more enjoyable ride.

Stubble:How does designing for Metro Transit, the iconography, signage, etc. differ than other design work? Are there certain aspects of public transportation that you have to account for in your work that you may not have to in other areas?

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Amy: I think designing for a public transit organization requires you to think more broadly and consider a more diverse audience. Transit serves all types of people with all sorts of reasons for riding. Transit may be convenient or save money, or it may be someone’s only mode of transportation. People who ride public transportation come from a wide variety of economic and ethnic backgrounds — English might not even be their first language. Images and iconography become extremely important when designing for such a diverse audience.

Stubble: How was the concept of the of the cartoons introduced and how was it shaped into the final little vignettes that are on busses today?

Amy: In our initial concept meeting, we looked at similar campaigns done by other transit agencies. One or our favorites was the recent campaign by New York’s MTA. It featured the classic stick people icons acting out various transit situations. The pictographs were great for being universal and understandable, and even a little bit cheeky.

We knew right away that we wanted to do something similar to keep the campaign light and fun. When dealing with behavioral issues or rules, it can be a challenge not to come off as scolding or reprimanding people. Our goal was to grab customers’ attention, perhaps make them smile, and remind them to “respect the ride.”

Stubble: The usual iconography is just rounded stick figures out of context, but in this case you’re creating characters in a little universe – what was your approach to this?

Amy: For our campaign, I wanted to take the stick figures a step further and make them really fun and memorable. I wanted the graphics to be bright and colorful, even cartoonish. Early on, I landed on the idea of using shapes. It allowed me to to have diverse characters and to be able to emphasize their emotions and actions without having to worry about figures being anatomically correct. As I sketched, I was reminded of the Roger Hargreaves books (the Mr. Men and Little Miss series) I read when I was child, and the the bowler hat seen on my rectangle guy was definitely inspired by my memory of these storybook characters.

I had a lot of fun sketching out the various “scenes”. I tried many renditions, drawing from different view points and using different characters to figure out the most effective way to get the message across. My goal was to create images that could stand alone and be understood without any text. The characters I drew out on paper became very endearing to me with their “sketchy” line quality and exaggerated expressions, and I carried this through into the final computer representations.

Stubble: My favorite character is the triangle because s/he’s always pretty angsty about something going on. Second favorite is the rectangle because he’s the only character that wears hats and ties on the bus. Are there any details you’re particularly proud of or hope riders enjoy?

Amy: I’m so glad you noticed these details. Unlike the expressionless stick figures, these characters show their emotions. I definitely spent extra time on some of these details, trying to give characters personality, especially playing around with facial expressions (the startled look of the oval rider next to the “cursing” triangle, the embarrassment of the triangle who didn’t pay its fare). My hope is that people will connect with these characters and scenes emotionally and that it will make the messages more memorable.

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Stubble: Does Metro Transit have any further plans to flesh out these characters? I can see a cartoon show or a comic book series in the works…

Amy: Currently there are not any further plans for these characters, but personally I would love to see them animated!

This post was written by Tom Johnson and originally published on Stubble. Follow Stubble on Twitter: @stubblemag.

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