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by Dr. William L. Haig
CEO Powerlogos Design
Co-author, The Power of Logos: How to Create
Effective Company Logos,
NY: Wiley, 1997 (fifth printing.)

The Power of Logos and Graphic Design Systems in Public Transportation
September, 2003

Maximizing Marketing Communication Dollars with Credibility Based Logo Design

This paper was first presented as a speech delivered to the American Public Transportation Association Bus Operations, Technology and Management Conference, Phoenix, 1998. Dr. Haig was Manager of Customer Services for Oahu Transit Services at the time. He now has his own Credibility Based Logo Design™ consulting company.


Applying the company logo, including all forms of graphic design, to the marketing mix is one of the most beneficial projects company management can undertake. It can also be one of the most prolific for those of us in public transportation because of the numerous exposures our visual identity projects to various publics daily.

Unlike other businesses, we have many moving vehicles on our streets with the company logo and color markings. We have transfers and bus passes. In addition, we have stationery, business cards, newsletters, fare decals, timetables, brochures and advertising to further our identity. Public transportation is a very visible part of the fabric of the city in which we live.

However, using an effective logo and graphic design as a marketing tool in public transportation is often neglected. In contrast, most airlines in the late 60s to well into the early 80s did a logo overhaul to keep competitive. They contracted with top design firms and invested millions to repaint planes with new color markings and a new logo. Some, like Continental Airlines and TWA have changed again. Astute companies like Nike, IBM and Rockwell International have used the power of graphic design in general for many years with great marketing success.

An article in a March 1991 issue of Fortune magazine titled, Design that Sells and Sells and…. states that: Many American corporations are embracing design as the hot strategic toll for the 1990s. Most corporations have improved operations to the point where they can match each other on price, quality, and technology. How, then, are they to differentiate themselves? Says Robert Hays at the Harvard Business School, “Fifteen years ago companies competed on price. Today it’s quality. Tomorrow it’s design.”

Why has the application of logo and graphic design power to achieve business goals been generally neglected in public transportation? The simple answer is that there is a general lack of understanding as to what logos and graphic design elements do.

The answer is simple. Logos and graphic design elements lend credibility to the given public transportation system. In the case of TheBus in Honolulu, our logo and graphics say in every instance that we are professional and friendly in giving highest service to our customers. This is what we try to be in reality. This is our credibility and our 250,000 daily customers respect this.

This white paper will describe how credibility persuasion principles apply to planning our logo and company graphics. The objective is to give management in public transportation a framework for planning development of their company logo and graphic design system. The results will make loyal customers and maximize marketing programs as well as gaining a greater bang for the buck. This is integrated brand promotion responsibly invested.

Introduction to Credibility Persuasion

Many studies in interpersonal communication (people to people) conclude that if the source of the message is competent, reliable and forward thinking, the message will be more readily accepted by the receiver. Thus, the source is thus considered credible. For example, a computer wiz would be more influential on what mouse of software program to buy than, say, a restaurant chef. But the chef, on the other hand, would be more influential when it comes to the best curry to buy and where, or the latest cookbook. You normally wouldn’t go to the computer wiz for food-related suggestions, and you wouldn’t go to the chef for electronic-related suggestions. Well, in most cases.

In short, a person high in dimensions of competent, reliable and forward thinking will be more credible and, therefore, more influential. I use the terms expert, trustworthy and forward thinking to mean basically the same thing to incorporate the three prongs of being credible.

What is important to small business is this. The author conducted research in the late 1970s to validate the hypothesis that if a company were also considered credible as communicated by it’s logo only; it would also be influential in achieving company goals. The hypothesis was proven correct!

How Does a Graphic Designer Create a Credibility-based Logo?

The first thing a designer does is symbolize the company business. This says the company is an expert in that business. Like the shoe repair shop with a sign hanging on the store front with a “boot” or “shoe” symbol. Together with the name, “Joe’s Shoe Repair,” Joe stands by his “experience” and “professional” trustworthy factors. We may or may not care if Joe is forward thinking (up to date with the latest shoe repair machinery and materials). If we did, Joe’s logo would be highly contemporary in design. Certainly other businesses would want to appear forward thinking such as an airline, computer manufacturer or eye doctor.

Successful logos are not an abstract concept any longer. They are credibility-based.

Integrated Brand Promotion

Integrated brand promotion (IBP) has been defined as the use of various promotional tools in a coordinated manner to build and maintain brand awareness, identity and preference. When companies combine the company logo with advertising, public relations, printed materials, contests, event sponsorship, point-of -purchase displays, and so on, this creates an integrated brand promotion.
There are three musts here:

  • All areas of public contact must be applied. A company brand is everything we know about it. In public transportation, it is the bus operators, it is the information agents, it is the bus pass, it is the timetable, it is the on time performance, it is the clean (hopefully) buses, it is the bus name, it is the bus logo – in short, all customer experiences with the organization.

  • All areas must be coordinated. Without coordination, the customer will encounter a series of unrelated (and often confusing) communications about the organization. With coordination there are synergistic effects that builds which build upon each other with each new experience.

  • All areas must be coordinated verbally and visually. Most companies have the verbal part down all right. It is the visual part that falls apart. This is where graphic design direction comes in. Each printed piece must look as if it came from the same company. Pieces may change in content, but the visual “style” must remain constant. Often companies develop a graphic standards manual to enforce visual consistency. One person will be designated as “the keeper of the brand image” within the company to make it work year after year. At TheBus in Honolulu is an in-house graphic designer and design director. Besides winning numerous local, regional and national (APTA) awards, this maximizes the company’s investment in all communications as well.

A Word About Company Employees

Company employees are the backbone of all transportation companies. Without their dedication and support, there would be nothing – no buses running, no buses maintained, no supervisors, no information agents, no bus passes sold, no lost and found, no accounting, no business period! Management must communicate with these employees daily. In person, by company newsletters, through supervisors, and by brand imagery. Employees are aware of and are proud of their company brand. At TheBus we wear logo clothing, pins, and display giveaways on our desks. The company logo represents management’s attitude about the company to its employees. All the more reason to have a credible logo that employees can relate to and live by.


Let’s face it, public transportation properties nationally can improve their brand image with its publics, internal and external. This is by applying credibility principles to all forms of communication beginning with the company logo. It must look “expert” and “trustworthy” and create a consistent, memorable, company image in all communications. Does your logo say public transportation? Does your logo say professional and friendly service? Why would you want to say anything different when the opportunity to do so is a prudent management-branding project?

© William L. Haig, Ph.D. or Bill Haig, Ph.D. 2006

This is an original work of the author. All rights reserved. Copyright registration will be applied for. No part of this article may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical photocopying, and recording or otherwise, without prior written permission of the author.

© 2007 Powerlogos Design. All rights reserved. 'Powerlogos Design', 'Credibility Based Logo Design', 'Logo Implementation Guidelines' and Logo Planning Report' are registered 
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