This Must Be the Place

Photo by Christie Hemm Klok for the New York Times

They took our name from us and no one knew it. Once you take our identity, you plan to take everything else.

Veronica Hemphill-Nichols, on gentrification and naming in Buffalo

An Introduction
Here in Toronto we’ve noticed an uptick in popular conversations about design—many prompted by Ontario Premier Doug Ford’s recent proposals, such as changing the province’s logo and rewriting its license-plate slogans. Supporters say the changes appropriately indicate the government is led by a new party; critics suggest branding work shouldn’t be a tool of partisan politics. Whatever your position on this issue, Canadians can take pride in another small piece of design news: the country’s new ten-dollar bill, featuring civil-rights icon Viola Desmond, was given the 2018 Bank Note of the Year Award by the International Bank Note Society.

Branding a City
These conversations prompt us to ask: What can design communicate about a place and its people, and how might a community’s changing needs and modes of communication impact that design?

The Scandinavian design firm Creuna recently worked with the municipality of Oslo to answer these questions for the Norwegian capital. As with many such projects, the goals included simplicity and efficiency. Creuna clarified the city’s seal, making it a viable logo for smartphones or billboards. The company created a design system and even an online tool that allows city employs to make their own compliant layouts. And, of course, it created a custom sans-serif typeface. (They’re not just for tech firms! See also: SwedenLausanne, Zurich Tourism, and this slightly eccentric example created for Vienna.)

What’s in a Name
Our sense of place derives from more than design—names convey meaning, too. In Buffalo, the Fruit Belt neighbourhood became Medical Park; in San Francisco, three neighbourhoods were combined and renamed East Cut; and Crystal City, outside Washington, DC, is now referred to as National Landing. What unites these examples are tech firms: “With decisions made by a few Google cartographers, the identity of a city, town, or neighbourhood can be reshaped, illustrating the outsize influence that Silicon Valley increasingly has in the real world.”

Every few weeks, we send Dispatch, a newsletter that draws together fascinating stories on creativity and purpose.