Paris: World’s Best Transit Logo?

I’ve seen a lot of transit logos all over the world, and this is my personal favorite.


Perhaps one has to know Paris to appreciate it.  But that’s fine; it’s a logo for Parisians.

In Paris, you need only draw a circle with a curving blue line through it, and anyone will see that as the city and its river, the Seine.  Huge liberties can then be taken with the shape of the Seine (map version here) to suggest the outline of a human profile.  That the face seems to be looking upward is brilliant; it conveys reverence and relaxation in the same moment.  To take the city’s original life force, the river, and render it as a face can take you deeper into the idea that Paris itself is a being, a consciousness, not just a playground for our egos.

(UPDATE:  If you go to the RATP website, you’ll see the slogan that goes with the logo:  Aimer la ville.  Literally, “Love the city.” )

I also love the fact that it’s not trying to be about transport in any literal sense.  It aims higher.  Transport in a big city is like the circulation of blood.  It doesn’t just enable urban life, it is urban life.  It’s not just a product or a service; it’s a way of describing what the city is.

For whatever reason, I feel warmth and wisdom from this little logo whenever I see it.

13 Responses to Paris: World’s Best Transit Logo?

  1. Angus Grieve-Smith July 10, 2010 at 6:05 am #

    I was living in Paris in 1992, when they came out with that design. I don’t remember the previous one, but I think it was pretty forgettable, maybe just the letters “RATP” in a circle. I didn’t get all those associations you had – I didn’t even recognize it as a face at first – but then again, I’m not Parisian.
    Of course, the turqoise circle represents the Paris city limits. This was many years before people in the mainstream started talking about the idea of Greater Paris.
    Seen in the light of the equity arguments – many of the Paris suburbs are very disadvantaged in relation to the city of Paris – the turquoise circle could be seen as representing the Periph, former fortifications that have been turned into an ugly highway acting as a barrier to entry for poor banlieusards. Maybe it’s time to update that logo.

  2. Angus Grieve-Smith July 10, 2010 at 6:11 am #

    By the way, have you had a chance to visit any of the places I recommended in my blog posts about Greater Paris?

  3. EngineerScotty July 10, 2010 at 6:47 am #

    Maybe it’s just my anglophone stereotypes of the French kicking in :), but that logo strikes me as more than a tad bit sexual. Like the face belongs to a person who is enjoying themselves immensely.
    Before I insert my proverbial foot any more in my mouth, I should note that this observation is not intended as a criticism–and to the extent that transit can be made to look sexy and exciting, rather than dull and sterile, it’s a good thing. Cyclelicious recently highlighted an ad campaign by a Virginia transit agency which used pretty women to “sell” transit, in an understated way.
    After all, if such tactics can be used to get people to spend thousands of dollars a year sticking burning sticks of tobacco in their mouths–a practice which is widely known to be harmful–they can be used to convince people that riding a bus is not a disgraceful thing to do.

  4. Joel Haasnoot July 10, 2010 at 7:42 am #

    If it’s only been around since 1992, I don’t think it deserves “best transit logo” award.
    My personal favorite is actually the Dutch Railways (NS) logo, see top left of The logo has been around since 1968, and is inspired by the British Rail logo.

  5. Anders July 10, 2010 at 7:51 am #

    I’ve always thought Madrid’s commuter rail (cercanías) logo was sort of bizarre/fascinating. If nothing else, it inspires one to twist their head upside down to correctly orient the big “C”:

  6. Rob July 10, 2010 at 10:59 am #

    Contrast this with King County Metro’s current logo of the county’s logo, with “METRO” below in larger print:
    The old “flower” logo wasn’t particularly spectacular, but it felt to me more like a consumer brand (or less of a government agency) than being branded exactly like anything else that belongs to King County:

  7. Jarrett at July 10, 2010 at 1:55 pm #

    Scotty. The RATP logo is sexy on several levels, yes, as any effective French logo would have to be. The French are comfortable with the idea that sex infuses everything that matters, as though the fundamental energy of life is sexual. And yes, your comment reflects British (and Germanic) incomprehension of the French view of sex as it has echoed down through the centuries!
    Angus. I read the circle as the Peripherique, yes, but note that the river line extends well beyond it. I see the Peripherique as giving shape, but not boundary, to the region. Note that the P in RATP stands for “Parisien,” so the logo is accurate in being Paris-focused, which is not the same thing as Paris-bounded.

  8. EngineerScotty July 10, 2010 at 2:11 pm #

    I wouldn’t mind if Anglo-Saxon culture was more French in this regard, actually. (I blame Luther). There’s something liberating about a culture where not only is it Not A Problem if the president parties like a rock star–it’s expected, as well. 🙂
    Here, it seems, politicians get in far bigger trouble for marital infidelity than they do for political corruption or malfeasance.

  9. Bouchecl July 10, 2010 at 2:19 pm #

    I’m surprised Jarrett or Scotty see the logo as “sexual”. The stylized outline of the Seine river in dark blue looks like a woman’s profile, but not for the reason you theorize.
    Since the Revolution, a woman’s face, Marianne‘s, has been used as an powerful allegory for the French Republic and its values: “Liberté, égalité, fraternité”. As part of the French public sector, I guess the link to this powerful symbol of the state was a major selling point when the Régie adopted the logo, almost 20 years ago.

  10. Jarrett at July 10, 2010 at 2:47 pm #

    First of all, who said anything about women?  😉 
    Yes, I'm familiar with Marianne, the topless savioress of the French Revolution in Delacroix's famous painting Liberty Leading the People etc.  But why be so specific?  The logo succeeds in part because it evokes a feeling without such specific references, and thus makes the feeling broader and more easily shared. 

  11. wanderer July 10, 2010 at 5:39 pm #

    Great logo, great city. It seems to me to be Cocteau inspired, and suitably androgynous. He often depicted the personality of places with a profile (I have one of Vence).
    What really made me smile was ‘aims’ becomes ‘aimes’, intentional or otherwise, and strive becomes love.

  12. Tom West July 12, 2010 at 6:58 am #

    Technicaly grip: “aimer” is normally translated as “to like”; “adorer” would be “to love”.
    London (UK) has a similar thing with the Thames. When it was bidding for the Olympics, the logo included the shape of the river (in Olympic colours).

  13. Chief Clerk July 14, 2010 at 4:51 pm #

    A bit OT but .. “Transport in a big city is like the circulation of blood. It doesn’t just enable urban life, it is urban life.” couldn’t agree more. If you haven’t done this yet – perhaps a thread on how for many users a bus / train / tram interior is where they spend large parts of their lives – more than in some rooms of their own homes. So these interiors really need to be inviting, not just durable & defensive.