“Sometimes that happens in design, a happy accident. More or less, we had this feeling among us that this couldn’t be true. We went off trying many other solutions, but nothing else was good enough.”

I had the honour of working closely with designer Massimo Vignelli, and believed in his mantra of “good design should be invisible.” This certainly holds true for environmental graphics design as well as wayfinding communication signs because these elements of design should not call any attention to them and should just function well — especially in the clutter of busy cities and airports. However, the ideation that ‘good’ design should be ‘invisible’ is not always true for logograms.

By their very nature, logos need to be visible and memorable to consumers in order to function effectively. They are incredibly important to a company as they are the tangible representation of a brand, corporation or intangible service. Sometimes logos bring not only attention to the company but also fame to the designer. Most contemporary designers would know that Paul Rand is the creative force behind the very successful IBM logo. Likewise, most Canadian creatives know that Burton Kramer as the designer of the original CBC logo, and Allan Fleming as designer of the Canadian National Railway logo. Some logos, in contrast, have a relatively short life-span and aren’t quite as successful as others. However a select few are just simply over- looked and under appreciated; the GOTransit logo is absolutely one of these. Despite its incredibly high visibility in Canada’s most populated city, Toronto, it still has not been fully recognized for the brilliance behind it’s design.


Over time, the GO Transit logo has become somewhat invisible to residents, and in my opinion is overlooked by the Canadian design community. Last year alone, 50m people hopped on and off the GO Train, one of North America’s largest transportation services. The logo has become an indelible addition to the urban fabric of the area — an enviable goal that most graphic designers strive to accomplish with any work they do. Despite the fact that ‘Torontonians’ see the logo all over the city of Toronto and on the side of GO trains every time they drive by on Highway 401, the green logo is taken for granted. Why is this the case, and how come the history and the designer until now, has been largely unknown?

I began to research the GOTransit logo when I was driving through Toronto, after my third year studying graphic design and design history at the Rochester Institute of Technology. I wondered as I drove by, who designed the incredible GO logo? My online research was unsuccessful – how could this be? If one were to enter “Canadian National Railway logo+design,” the search would return Allan Fleming as the designer, along with a biography of him.

So, the answer. After some digging around on The CDR I found a contact Frank Fox who disclosed the logo’s history and about the company he worked for, Gangon/Valkus – who has been credited with the design. He says “over the years [Gangon/Valkus] had developed a good working relationship with the advertising agency, McConnell Eastman.They were the ad agency for CN and had the contract to produce an brand for the Ontario government and the new transit system for the city of Toronto. With the support of CN, Gagnon/ Valkus was given a contract to develop the [GOTransit logo] under the umbrella of McConnell Eastman.”

The original GO Transit Logo shown above has the ‘G’ and the ‘O’ touching.

The GO logo is essentially unchanged from its original release of its 1967 design; a true test of timelessness and a rare occasion among the Twentieth and twenty first century logos. The design works perfectly well in today’s blackberry typing and texting world due to its extreme simplicity and symbolic concept behind it. It has only gone under one minor revision a few months after its original release. Before the revision, the logogram that was first released had the ‘G’ and ‘O’ slightly touching.Today, a gap between the two letters and a white ‘T’ distinguishes the ‘G’ and the ‘O’.

At the time the design was made for GOTransit, Fox was working with a company called Gangon/Valkus, a New York based of office owned by Jim Valkus. Jim opened the of office first in Montreal and partnered with painter/ lmmaker/designer Charles Gagnon, to develop the CN corporate identity as well as to compete for Expo ‘67 contracts. Fox modestly states that “a lot of the work in the office was done in a collaborative way. This meant that ideas and concepts were developed in an atmosphere of team spirit.The GO symbol evolved very much in that manner.” Jean Mornin was also one of the designers working at the Gangon/Valkus office and as Fox admits, was “a key person during the design process and should also be given credit.”

A statement in an online historical text achieve, called Building GO-Transit: The Rail Commuter Initiative ofThe Government of Ontario & Canadian National Railways, People in the project

1965-1969, Frank remembers how the team came to a quick resolution to the project.They wanted to bring the initials of the Government of Ontario, into a uni ed logo. “I started working on it conceptually right away. We started thumbnail sketches and in one of those surprising things that happens every now and again, the actual concept of the GO symbol came up very quickly.

We were thinking of two circles with a letter “T” somewhere in them. We had cut out two circles, then literally put a square into the circle, then “Bingo”, there was the G, in green, and we could lay a white “T” on it.”

“Sometimes that happens in design, a happy accident. More or less, we had this feeling among us that this couldn’t be true. We went off trying many other solutions, but nothing else was good enough. I know we were surprised, this thing happened rather quickly. We played with the proportions a bit, because we did not want the overlying “T” to disappear, when the logo would be reduced in size.”

Soon after the initial draft Fox states, “We made a presentation to McConnell Eastman in Toronto of the original concept, showing the GO symbol and it’s potential application. After that presentation and [an] OK from the client, McConnell Eastman took over from Gagnon/Valkus and our role diminished.” However the genius functionality and design has not. This history however unfortunately did. But in the eyes of the company, it still is a dominant and successful corporate identity logogram. Clearly it has worked for them as they have never seen anything else represent their company—an amazing accomplishment by Frank Fox and the design team at Gagnon Valkus.

The GO logo is truly a design that should have been more publicly credited a long time ago within the design community due to the success it had immediately after the realease. The company has been incredibly successful for many decades.The logogram is an incredible specimen of modernism in design as it stays true to its form and communicates everything it needs to quickly and ef ciently; a must for a fast-pasted, high-tech company. It is a logo that represents the pinnacle of Canadian modernist designers strive to accomplish. Like the CN logo, and even the ABC and IBM logos, it should continue to withstand the test of time for many more decades to come.The next time you commute from Oakville to Union Station on those little green trains we all know as the GO.


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