UI Genius: CityMaps Uses Brand Logos To Make Maps More Useable

Could you make your way across San Francisco using logos alone? (Okay, and maybe a few street names, too.)

UI Genius: CityMaps Uses Brand Logos To Make Maps More Useable

In 2009, an Oscar-nominated short called Logorama spent 16 minutes breaking down our entire society into logos and trademarks. It was fantastic satire. But now someone has pretty much done the same thing in real life.


CityMaps is a view of New York City, Austin, and San Francisco through its logos alone. Rather than using satellite images, Street View, or legends for schools and restaurants, the map uses branding in its purest form–along with offers for all sorts of corresponding coupons–to help you discover somewhere you’d like to go.

To be honest, it’s a relatively cold, commercial way to look at a city. (There’s no architecture whatsoever!) But as Elliot Cohen, cofounder and CEO explains, it’s also a pretty effective way to break down geography. “Just a glance at the map and you can get a feel for all the small, medium, and big businesses in your city without ever needing to make a specific search query,” Cohen tells Co.Design. “Visual search also helps people remember those hidden gems they might have walked by in the past, but don’t remember the name of.”

The only problem is, hidden gems actually fare a lot worse in their logo-based map than the big businesses. Right now, it couldn’t be easier to spot the nearest McDonald’s, Gap, or Starbucks across NYC. But your standalone alehouse, cafe, or boutique shop often appears with nothing more than simple black and white type. Ironically, the one-off hidden gem appears generic, and the major brand with a colorful logo becomes the standout destination. (Though to be fair, they can contact the service to have their logos added.)

That criticism aside, CityMaps is extraordinarily easy to read. And it’s flat-out alarming how well our brains can process piles of information that, through the passive educational forces of mass marketing alone, essentially function as a secondary, short-hand language to distinguish one burger joint from another.


If you want to try it out for yourself, CityMaps is online. It’s also a free iPhone app.

Download it here.

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.