Yesterday a couple of tweets popped up, pointing out a new trademark filing from the CTC. It was widely known that a major rebranding (and revision of strategy) was in the pipeline, and this was the first publicly available taste of that change.
There is little doubt in my mind, and that of many others, that rebranding CTC—the Cyclists’ Touring Club—is wise.
I’m a member of CTC, but I think that making cycling accessible to more people (for the side-effects that it brings) is hugely more important than a club for enthusiasts. Besides, there’s no reason to abandon that role; it’s simply being dropped from the organisation’s primary identity.
The most obvious reason for change is that touring is only a small part of the CTC’s modern day function, which makes the name unrepresentative and anachronistic. It’s been simply “CTC” for a long time now, but of course that’s not exactly self-explanatory, and any explicit explanation obviously has to be saddled with a lengthy caveat about the “touring” bit.
But actually, although it’s obviously problematic, I don’t think “touring” is the key issue.
I’ll come back to that.
The new branding is “Cycling UK”, and the logo is as follows.
The visual branding is… not my taste, for what that’s worth. The Cocon typeface, a quasi-brush stroke sanserif, is presumably intended to covey a soft, welcoming image; nothing wrong with that, but combine it with the “we are” prefix (à la “We are Macmillan”, which also uses a brush stroke in its logotype) and the “UK” suffix used by countless charities, not to mention some insipid colours, and—if I’m brutally honest—it feels plaintive. It makes me feel that cycling might be some sort of currently untreatable genetic disease that demands sympathy.
But these things are in no small part highly subjective matters and we’ve not yet seen how they fit in to a full rebrand, so let’s just treat the preceding paragraph as petty opinion and move on to what I would argue is the real problem.
The real problem—from both a design point of view and, crucially, the more significant messaging point of view—is the strapline that’s been crudely dumped below the main logotype.
(You can almost replay in your mind the hypothetical meeting at which some objectors to the original, clean designs demanded the addition of a line such as this, and I can only imagine that the brand designer has made it look completely incongruous as a matter of spite. If that’s how it came about then, as a fan of passive-aggressivism and a part-time designer among other things, I might have been tempted to do the same.)
That strapline: “The cyclists’ champion.”
The cyclists’ champion.
Maybe it’s not obvious.
Here’s the problem: the word “cyclists”.
Let’s consider this rebranding: from the “Cyclists’ Touring Club” to “Cycling UK”. The new name may not be to everyone’s taste, but it gets one thing exactly right: it replaces “cyclists” with “cycling”.
These are critical words.
Critical to communicating the right message.
Why so? Because the main, if not entire, point of this exercise is—at least I hope it is—to support the enablement of cycling as a normal, safe, everyday mode of transport; to make cycling accessible and appealing to far more people. To make cycling accessible and appealing to people who are not cyclists.
This is something that needs to be borne in mind by any entity seeking to promote cycling: “cyclists” is almost always the wrong word to use.
The CTC’s future strategy likely rests heavily on securing large public grants. Politically, this process must be delivered in one of two contexts: either that of funding for cyclists or that of funding for cycling. And, politically, these are very different. To the public at large, “more government money to improve cycling [for everyone]” plays out rather differently to “more government money given to cyclists“. (And, if it doesn’t play out differently right now, explaining that difference is crucial to progress.)
Of course, there is a broader debate as to whether funding via a charity that starts to look a little like a Quango is appropriate, or whether the only way to achieve real results is to keep hammering away at the DfT and the various highways authorities until general highway provision includes infrastructure for cycling (as well as other non-motorised vehicles and mobility scooters) as part of a balanced and sustainable transport mix. After all, it’s not as if Sustrans—a long-established Quango charity in much the same space that Cycling UK will presumably be in—has achieved much of substance other than cementing cycling’s status as nothing more than a leisure activity.
But let’s set that aside for now. There is a great deal of progress to be made and “Cycling UK” should be supported if it is able to drive that progress.
It will be interesting to see where CTC/Cycling UK goes with its strategy. I have some faith that it will be progressive, though I remain cynically wary that these things are often too much about encouragement and too little about enablement. But these are early days, and although I (and just about everyone else) might object to a couple of details here and there, that doesn’t undermine the point that a brand change is necessary and is a significant step forward.
I do hope, though, that the “cyclists’ champion” strapline is quietly dropped…