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September 23rd, 2019
Mayor's Office
Jason Kunesh
Chicago Design System Rationale & Launch Next Steps

The Chicago Design System is our new public identity, consisting of a new mark, typeface, color scheme, re-rendering of the city seal, and a design system to rollout digital and analog brand expressions (See the accompanying presentation).

We should do this to make Chicago more inclusive of our communities, make the Mayor’s voice more effective, and save over $5 million annually.


In marketing and technology costs.


Our new brand is accessible, inclusive, and clear.


One brand amplifies the Mayor’s message & communications team.


The City of Oslo completed a similar rebranding effort a year ago, and is now able to conservatively estimate saving $5mm+ annually by utilizing a modern brand architecture across its 250 logos and 750,000 residents. By working with the Office of Budget and Management to compare budgets and impact, we estimate a savings for Chicago of $5-10mm annually from the City of Chicago’s marketing budget.

This estimate is based on a 2019 budget of $10.6bn. Removing pension and other obligations gives a total corporate budget of either $3.2 or $7.4 billion, depending on what parts of our budget you consider having a marketing spend. Using 2.5% as an estimated budget for marketing per department, based on estimates provided by 2FM, you arrive at a total annual marketing budget for the city of $80-185mm.

Additionally, we can save millions from department IT spending on the design and code of web sites and mobile apps with the Chicago Design System (, based on the federal United States Web Design System standards. The US Digital Service, who makes the USWDS, estimates a savings of $100,000 on IT project where the system is used. We have dozens of websites today, which is the same use case driving federal adoption.

The White House switched to the USWDS and saved $3mm annually on maintenance costs. Moving to a shared government internet technology stack in the cloud with an updated user experience, and modernize content workflows saves money.

The cost savings and brand discipline effectiveness are undeniable as the system is adopted for creation and maintenance of analog, digital and physical properties at scale.


One brand empowers the Mayor’s message to cut through the noise effectively and inspires trust and confidence in its audience. Today independent visual identities compete individually with enterprise marketing budgets, creating an uneven playing field where we fragment our greatest strength: Chicago’s unique identity.

Leading global cities (including New York, Paris, Sao Paulo & more, see slides 3-15) have rebranded to compete globally and inspire pride locally. Our current brand’s physical and digital presences are divergent, sometimes exclusionary, and confusing from a resident, business and visitor perspective.

Our new brand is simple, accessible, inclusive, and clear. Our public graphic identity is an extension of the dimensions and visual elements of our flag, one of the most recognizable and respected of any government, and an invitation to communities, neighborhoods, & civic partners to remix and reuse.

This brand celebrates our typographic and architectural history through Big Shoulders, our municipal typeface, a donation from Google, freely available to the public, and soon to be internationalized through partnership with DePaul University and the international type community.

Our new identity draws inspiration from the city’s past while moving us to the future. Paired with an updated version of the seal for official communication, Chicago can modulate between public service voice and official, legal tones.


In 1917, the municipal device and flag were entered into the Municipal Code. The device was intended “for use by the varied unofficial interests of the city and its people.” In the past century, residents have forgotten the device and ignored or felt excluded by the seal, with its difficult history. Instead, they chose the flag as our Chicago identity.

We should meet people where they are with this flexible, public mark. It is built for people to use to create their own expression of Chicago. We request the City Clerk update the municipal code to reflect this expression of Chicagoans’ civic pride and make two other changes: First, the code is out of date in many ways, like insisting the municipal device appear on nearly all City vehicles. Today no vehicles have it, so most vehicles in the municipal fleet are in violation of City code for no reason. We should amend this.

We should also work with the City Clerk’s office to update the definition of our seal to only describe the seal, the elements of the seal, and its use by the City for official business. We should not include the graphical nature of the official seal except as an example, lest municipal law become a pre-press shop. For example, in the new identity set there are currently four current versions of the municipal seal for print, web, embroidery, and mobile app development. We do not want to update the municipal code when we inevitably add a fifth, sixth, and seventh, nor do we want to violate the code consistently, as we often do in our printed materials today.