As the Worm Turns: A Designer's Concept of What Muni Could Be

Derek Kim sees chaos and he must instill order. He sees sloppiness and he needs to organize it. He sees haphazardness and he has to bestow regularity. He sees Muni — and he's gotta change everything.

So he did.

Kim is on the shorter side, with jet black hair pulled back into a bun, a ready smile, and sleek, handsome features. He looks even younger than his 27 years. "Fixing Muni" has been a San Francisco obsession since long before his birth, predating even the days Herb Caen suffered through ordeals on "The Muniserable bus." Mayor Willie Brown vaingloriously claimed he could do the job in 100 days. He didn't — Lord knows he didn't — but he certainly did prove there's plenty of money to be made running a transit system poorly, if you're so inclined.

Derek Kim's vision for Muni would "demonstrate efficiency through cleanliness." It would also incorporate the work of local artists, which is currently "tucked away in galleries."
Derek Kim's vision for Muni would "demonstrate efficiency through cleanliness." It would also incorporate the work of local artists, which is currently "tucked away in galleries."

That's not Kim's focus. Nor are Muni's pricey, breakdown-prone vehicles; its slowest-in-North America average speed; or a labor situation about as amiable as Little Bighorn.

Rather, Kim takes issue with The Worm.

It's a bold move to suggest altering the one element of Muni enjoyed by even passengers trapped on soiled vehicles in which the ratio of sane to crazy riders has tipped perilously toward the latter: the uniquely goofy, trapped-in-amber, 1970s-era logo. A gloriously outmoded emblem emblazoned on the side of every municipal vehicle in town is a comforting sight in a city in flux. It's a powerfully nostalgic symbol for those with deep San Francisco roots, but also warm and welcoming — a readily accessible signifier of this city even for people who haven't lived here for decades. It makes you smile in the same way as a Sly and the Family Stone tune coming on the radio, even though they're both similarly dated. Because of it, in fact.

Trendy is fleeting. Dated is forever.

Kim, however, is neither tentative nor nostalgic. He saw inconsistency and needed to create consistency. He saw irregularity and craved uniformity. And it was not a choice entirely of his making. "I have to do this," he says, smiling sheepishly. "My OCD is telling me, 'Make the logo-type uniform.'"

So he did.

Kim's obsessive-compulsive disorder has compelled him to do great work in his job as a designer. In addition to his full-time work, though, he toiled long hours crafting a "Muni Rebranding Concept." Starting with The Worm and trickling down into driver uniforms and station signage, it's an aesthetic reboot of a system with a general design concept that looks as if it was made up as it went along.

Because it was.

Don't get Kim wrong — he loves The Worm. But love doesn't mean accepting something warts and all. Warts are inconsistent. Warts are not uniform.

So, while Kim loves The Worm, he must change it. The thinner and thicker lines on the logo's top and bottom? Gotta go: "It makes it look like the logo has bell-bottomed pants." In Kim's version, every stroke is of equal weight. Everything is proportional. The "i" is of a consistent stroke style with the rest of the logo. Consistency. Uniformity. It's something Muni has precious little of. But Kim's just getting started. In his blueprint, the buses and trains are now one color. Rather than the hodgepodge of vehicle colors — burgundy, tangerine, white, metallic, duct tape — Kim favors cherry red. This, he says, "is an 'ownable' color most transit systems don't use." Combined with his snow-white new Worm, the vehicles look a bit like mobile Target billboards; they're nothing if not striking.

Doing away with the jarring brown-and-orange uniform template, Kim has designed five sets of mix-and-match driver's outfits (white tops, gray pants, black ties, and red trim — with sensible black vests). And, not unlike a baseball team's loud Sunday uniform, Kim also threw in a flashy red top resembling a Day-Glo Mao jacket.

Derek Kim may be obsessive, but he's not unrealistic. Atop his illustrations of what Muni could be is the following disclaimer: "This exercise isn't meant as a rhetorical call to action for SFMTA. [It] would be unwise of the agency to spend money on such a thing rather than improving their service."

You may like the Day-Glo Mao jacket and you may not (your humble narrator thinks it's kind of great). But it's hard to question Kim's fiscal sense.

His work has received a good deal of buzz within the design community and, also, within Muni. His concepts have been forwarded around the agency and Muni employees have reached out with compliments. But there's no money for cosmetic redesigns, and everyone knows it.

In fact, the demands of function chip away at Kim's fine form. His concepts for buses and trains would have to be rejiggered to allow for adspace on the sides. Muni buses have specifically been painted white to reduce costs following body repairs and enable panels to be interchangeable. "You may remember, the older GMC coaches were red," notes a longtime Muni hand. "Everyone hated it enough to change the paint scheme to something that took less effort to look clean."

As for the driver uniforms, a veteran Muni manager reveals that "at the warehouse on Quint Street there are hundreds of uniforms in big boxes just sitting for years — some new, some used, but a lot of money [wasted] either way." Operators, he continues, aren't uniformly fond of wearing uniforms — and that would apply to a cherry red Mao jacket, too.

You likely don't know who Walter Landor is. But you're familiar with his work. He designed logos for Bank of America and Coca-Cola. He also designed the Muni Worm.
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sebraleaves topcommenter

I like the graffiti buses and trains in Amsterdam with different art on each bus. It isn't like you don't recognize a bus when you see one. I have to say the solid color approach may be better and safer than the multi-colored patterned look. The solid color defines the size better, which may make people less careless about stepping out in front of one, if any thing can do that.

Rob Cotton
Rob Cotton

muni has far more important problems to address than aestetics

Eric Eberman
Eric Eberman

who cares just clean up the INSIDE of the filthy buses and get them to run on time and stop fining fare cheats!

Khanh Nguyen
Khanh Nguyen

How about having more trains so I don't have to stand and look as 8 of them passes me by and cannot get on?

Laura Isaeff
Laura Isaeff

Not sure painting the buses will fix what is wrong. Style over substance?

Marlene Tran
Marlene Tran

How about designing EFFICIENT passenger SAFETY features INSIDE these buses???

sfhrod topcommenter

A bright red bus? with a giant almost unreadable Muni logo plastered on the side? That's a terrible idea!


maybe you cant change all of MUNI, but there are certainly opportunities within the system.  Just like the now defunct culture bus, or the beloved Nx line, there are definitely going to be opportunities with the forthcoming Van Ness and Geary BRT.  But of course in reality, if you dedicate a specific percentage for a specific cause, then you cant (or well you can) run other buses on these lines, or run these buses on other lines.

In any case, the MUNI fast pass could actually be used as a logo for the limited use tickets for muni or perhaps a special edition clipper card.  (or guess what, you could create a label to place on a clipper card and wahlah, you get a custom card for a lot less than what clipper would charge you.)

njudah topcommenter

Anyone with a computer or a pen and paper can make pretty drawings and whatnots. Creating a workable logo and design, and the thought that goes into creating something that has to appear in mutliple formats and mediums, and will have to last for a long time is not. Want an example of how NOT to do this? Just look at the crappy SFMTA logo that was "crowdsourced" - and turned out to be a copy of another company's logo!


Unattractive, and too easily confused with a fire truck.  The crimson-and-silver scheme being used on the new hybrid buses is quite nice.  And the SFMTA logo is kinda neat, I think that should be on the Muni buses and trolleys instead of the 70's "MUNI" logo.

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