Hong Kong Identities - MTR - Q&A with John Lloyd


Through the series of articles, Hong Kong Identities, we hope to capture part of our current brand landscape, by talking briefly about a number of socially important identities. Through a series of questions we hope to get an insight into the designer's process when forming these iconic marks.


The MTR railway system in Hong Kong opened in 1979 and is now one of the most successful railway systems in the world. This is a short discussion with designer, John Lloyd.


A.C: To what can you attribute the long lasting success of the MTR identity?

J.L: The MTR identity system succeeds and endures because it has within it everything that makes for an effective identity: the logotype is distinctive, legible, identifiable at a glance, memorable, and timeless. The best corporate marks achieve these aims through simplicity and clarity of form. Furthermore, there is a comprehensive design system surrounding the logotype which includes, signs, passenger information, ticketing, uniforms, train liveries and vehicle interiors, corporate and marketing communications, and environments. All these elements are conceived and coordinated to enhance the passenger experience and to reflect the MTR brand values.


A.C: Of course it is always easier to look into a logo once completed, but what were your initial design references and inspirations that had the greatest influence on the design of the symbol?

J.L: An earlier version of the MTR symbol had been devised by Design Research Unit, a British Design Firm, who were hired to create an identity and sign system when the MTR organisation was founded in the early 1970s. In the 1990s, my consultancy, Lloyd Northover, was commissioned to develop a more effective identity and design management programme for MTR, which had grown considerably. We retained the basic form of the established DRU symbol but strengthened it and placed it within a comprehensive design system covering all manifestations and expressions of the MTR.

The MTR symbol is abstract and is not meant to communicate an obvious meaning. I believe that the original rationale for the form was that the two curves represented Kowloon above and Hong Kong island below, connected by the vertical line. The symbol has a distinct and deliberate Chinese flavour but there is no literal Chinese meaning that I am aware of. The symbol is intended to look modern and to reflect the state of the art transportation technology evident in the MTR system.


A.C: How has your process developed since completing the MTR logo in 1998?

J.L: My approach to the identity process remains essentially unchanged. The process has always involved: research, strategy development, consensus-building, creative design, implementation, monitoring and control, and continuing design management. Technology has, of course, had an impact but the essentials of what creates an effective identity are, I believe, eternal.


A.C: Has your outlook to client partnership changed since you started your design practice?

J.L: I have always believed that designers should work as equal partners with clients. The designer does not always know best and the client is not always right. But teamwork and respect between client and designer are essential. Early in my career, I saw that the most successful designers are those who listen well. My approach to client relationships has always been the same.


I believe that the beauty of the MTR identity lays within it's success to sustain and endure such a length of time. The logo's social value in Hong Kong is extremely powerful, especially in times of the city's future uncertainty. Hong Kong needs to feel ownership of identities like the MTR to grasp and feel attached to, when moving into the next five, ten, twenty years.


About the author, Adam

Adam is the design director of BrandCraft. BrandCraft is a branding and design consultancy based in Hong Kong. We specialise in branding, visual identity, corporate identity and rebranding.

Adam is a branding consultant and has worked with clients in the UK, USA, Hong Kong, Tokyo, South Korea and China. He has had self-initiated art and design projects exhibited at various galleries and museums including the Victoria & Albert Museum of Art and Design and regularly writes about branding and design theory.

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