Before it had the logo we all know today, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (aka Metro) used a graphic that looked a lot like the one Washington DC's transit system uses and holds a copyright on: a big, bulky "M" in a circle with the word "Metro" underneath. In fact, to hear Metro tell CityLab the story, DC was upset enough about it to send Metro an angry letter to cut it out. (A rep for Washington DC's transit folks says that they were miffed but never took it to court.) At that point, says Metro's creative director, "It really opened up the door for us to be able to explore the idea of a new logo." The way they arrived at the current iteration of the new symbol—a stencil-ish "M" in a circle—took into account the goals and mission of the agency, as well as what people were already comfortable with about the icon.
The old Metro logo had some flaws. It was being used inconsistently (it would sometimes appear with differently-colored backgrounds), and from certain distances the little "Metro" under the big "M" was difficult to read. In 2003 (after the mean letter from DC), Metro creative director Michael Lejeune and art director Neil Sadler got to work trying to create a new logo for the system. Not wanting to ditch the "M"-in-a-circle part of the logo (which was showing an 80 percent recognition rate with respondents on local surveys), they started to mess with the "M" itself.
The logo that was finally selected features the notched "M" that appears on buses today, in a circle with the word Metro, "bumped out" underneath so as to appear as a "visual equal partner" to the "M." To avoid the color inconsistencies of the previous logo, this one is in white and black only. The notch in the "M," says Lejeune, is not just for style points; it also reflects Metro's two-part mission as both transit provider and mobility planner for LA. "The thought with that 'M' was it's two sides of the house, and they come together," he explained.
The new logo has even higher recognition within the city today, Lejeune says—95 percent. Enough to put it up solo, without the "Metro." "There's enough awareness that we can use one or the other interchangeably," he says.
· The Making of the L.A. Metro 'M' [CityLab]