Nice Ride Minnesota Kicks Things Into Gear

The idea: Municipal bike-sharing programs—read: the installation of free or low-cost cycles that residents can check out at kiosks and ride around town—are about as “European” as, well, the euro. Especially in an era when underinsured Americans have been persuaded to think a decent healthcare system is a spoonful of spooky Socialism. Minneapolis will be among the first U.S. metros to install a public bikes program. To build buzz, the city hired local design firm Duffy & Partners to create the brand identity: everything from the program’s name to the strategy and all design-related elements.

The pitch: “They came to us and said, ‘We have this great idea and we’re going to look for major sponsors, but in order to do that, we’d really like to brand it,’” agency chairman/design guru Joe Duffy said of his pro bono assignment. Nice Ride Minnesota came out of an agency brainstorming session. “Minnesota Nice” is a cultural reference that denotes a regional Pollyanna naivete perhaps best exhibited in the film Fargo. The name also connotes eco-friendliness and conjures up a cool vehicle as in, “Hey, nice ride!” A logo soon followed. “The imagery we started with [involved] lots of variations on the bike theme: two wheels and different figures riding bikes,” Duffy said. “Then one of our designers hit on a cool, simple design that almost speaks to the effort in a universal symbol language. It was just a stylized ‘N’ and ‘R’ on top of two wheels. We tried more complicated ones, but we kept coming back to this one because the identity needs to be applied to small things and also be interesting enough to work on big signage.”

The plan: The firm is readying Nice Ride materials for station kiosks, T-shirts, a Web site, the bikes, print materials and other collateral. “The design is simple,” Duffy said. “It can be stitched on a garment or stenciled on a bike lane.”  When Nice Ride’s first phase launches in spring 2010, it will include 1,000 bicycles in 75 kiosks in Minneapolis. Service will eventually expand to St. Paul.

Font not:
“We love it when we get to name a new brand so we can make sure it works graphically—even if we have to misspell words,” Duffy confided. “Hey, we’re designers.”

Pro bonus:
“When it’s a cause we love, like cycling, the designers really get charged up,” Duffy said. “A project like this lends itself to cool imagery that we can have fun with. If you’re not going to get paid, you want to do work that a) you’re proud of, b) that you believe in as a cause and c) that will lead to some cool creative.”