Chicago Bike Share System — Divvy

The Naming and Designing of a Chicago Transportation System

This Project was a Collaborative Effort:
STUDIO: Firebelly | DESIGN TEAM: Nick Adam + Will Miller + Ohn Ho + Greg Calvert
IDEO RESEARCH TEAM: Sara Frisk + David Berthy + Adam Geremia
CLIENT: The City of Chicago + Motivate (fka Alta)
It was a distinct privilege to collaborate on a human centered research project with IDEO and the concepting, designing, and production of this identity, it's system with Will Miller, Ohn Ho, and Greg Calvert during my time at Firebelly.
PROJECT CONCEPT:
Chicago’s recent efforts to build an increasingly effective, pedestrian-friendly transportation system included the creation of a city-wide bike share program. The brief was for IDEO to collaborate with Firebelly in creating a name, developing a visual identity, gaining consensus across the top city officials, and rolling it out across a standards guide.

IDEO would structure the research, at Firebelly we would lead and execute the design and branding. Much more than brand standards, the guide was to comprise 40+ touch-points (bikes, stations, vans, stationery, event environments, uniforms, website, and so forth) each to be designed, rationalized, revised, and set up for production. And with just over 2 months time to accomplish everything, we had our first kick-off meeting.
The process was one of inclusive collaboration. Together, with the clients, we would convene at design charrettes, the first of which was to generate potential names. In a matter of hours, we collectively came up with and discarded hundreds, perhaps thousands, of names. Many of which were puns on regional vernacular like "Da Bike,” "Cycle Jordan,” "Bike Ditka,” or the client’s beloved "Rahm-bler.” While none of these made the cut, we were intentional about creating a safe place for collaboration where the client felt heard.
Research was approached under IDEO’s human centered lens and aimed to gain an understanding of the emotional and behavioral values of would-be riders. We spoke with over sixty commuters about their perceptions of bicycling and a bike share program. As well, we selected twenty-six names to discuss with them. The goal was not to crowdsource a decision, but to identify patterns of interpretation that would reveal our consumers’ values. 

Through these explorative conversations, we learned that Chicagoans and tourists alike desired a balance of convenience and light-hearted spontaneity. They had a fear of cars in the urban environment and desired to know that the system was safe, secure, robust, and supported by the City itself. Chicagoans wanted the bikes to feel “official,” part of the City’s infrastructure. We also learned that people in Chicago valued the joy of riding. All in all, would-be riders desired the bikes to be fun and spontaneous, yet safe. These conversations provided us with the start of a story that we would need to develop an ending for.
Based on how the names spoke to the values we uncovered, we narrowed down our list to five recommended names. The final name, Divvy, reflects the shared nature of the service. The strength of Divvy comes from its relevance to the product and its potential use in speech; the name could easily be used in conversation as a concise-noun, an adjective, or a verb. From its inception, the name was poised to work on materials as an identity, but as well as, an easy-to-adopt language system that the public would use to talk about it. This project began as governmental initiative called “Chicago's Bicycle Share Program,” where we were arriving was a lifestyle entity about sharing.
The final charrette was a quick sketching session. Leadership from the City of Chicago joined our team from Firebelly and IDEO in a side-by-side session generating hundreds of immediate iterations of the potential names. The session was not intended to inform the design, but to provided a framework where we could see what was in the client's mind. 

While the City of Chicago was insistent in having a logo that directly referenced the form of a bicycle, we felt it was important to not be redundant. Once the program was operational across the city, the Divvy brand would appear on thousands of bicycles and tens of thousands of items imbedded in the context of cycling (key fobs, membership letters, uniforms, stations, a fleet of vans). We worked to avoid literal bicycle references and to ensure that the client understood the benefits of having a brand that was well articulated and not overly repetitive.
Once the final name was approved, design began. We pursued a variety of directions, often starting with loose sketches moving into rough variations. While developing the proposed identities and their systems we focused on the presence, balancing respect for the content in light of the context. Ultimately the one we recommended and that the client chose did just this.
The double-V ligature, is based on the guillemet, or angled quotes. This glyph is often taken out of literary context to indicate direction and motion. Marked on streets across the world, this double arrow symbolizes the shared use of lanes between bicyclists and motorists. We learned that in contemporary transportation vernacular, this marking goes by the name “sharrow.” Interestingly, the stacking of repeating letters is also not something new and can be found in the Proto-Sinaitic and hieroglyphic writings.

The logotype itself is custom, inspired by monospaced forms that share a common width to define themselves. This is akin to people defining themselves in the common widths of the road corresponding to their mode of transportation. Constructed with right angles and geometric curves, the identity is built upon the same grid that defines Chicago’s roads. To soften the sharpness of the characters, all edges have a slightly rounded curve likened to a smooth ride of the cruiser-style bicycle. Together, the weight of each character and their rounded ends offer a trusted utilitarian look that feels part of the city vernacular. The logotype is comfortable within its urban environment.
As a branding system Divvy’s guillemet is extracted and used as a navigational devise, directing attention and organizing space, or emotively in the background. The system of messaging puts both the monospace and proportional sans-serif of Grilli Type's GT Pressura to use, enabling Divvy's voice to hit a wide range of tones. Both of GT Pressura's variants have rounded corners that perfectly complement the friendly side of the Divvy logotype.
Through the row of four six-pointed stars on the bike's chain lay and through Divvy's primary color, “Chicago blue,” we were able to convey the incredible city pride that we witnessed in our initial conversations with would-be riders. These elements are derived from Chicago's iconic flag. Here the stars have been updated to match the geometry and roundness of the logotype. Chicago's usage of light blue varies greatly, we found Pantone 298c to be the perfect color to provide a visual connection to the flag and, most importantly, a brightness to increase a cyclist’s visibility and conspicuity to passing cars in our busy urban environment.
The brand is approachable and simple, yet pulls from design and language history. It speaks directly to its purpose while encouraging participation in our collective ever-growing sharing culture. The concept of Divvy was born out of an understanding of the people and the City of Chicago. Divvy speaks to the down-to-earth, collaborative, and quirky nature of our city. It celebrates the emotional and behavioral importance of bike sharing, and allows the strength of its city to serve as an understated foundation. As a brand, it speaks clearly to how we feel, rather than where we are or what we are doing.
Project Deliverables:
Naming, Branding, Identity System Design, Research, Strategy, Creative Direction, Brand Guidelines Manual, Signage Standards, Vehicle Graphics, Uniform Graphics, Stationery, Collateral
This Project was a Collaborative Effort:
STUDIO: Firebelly | DESIGN TEAM: Nick Adam + Will Miller + Ohn Ho + Greg Calvert
IDEO RESEARCH TEAM: Sara Frisk + David Berthy + Adam Geremia
CLIENT: The City of Chicago + Motivate (fka Alta)