City of Vienna der Mensch in der Mitte


Our work for Vienna has been awarded a German Design Award 2020 for Excellence in Brand Identity.

Saffron worked on creating a new place brand for the city of Vienna in collaboration with communications partner saintstephens and digital experts Instant Design.

The world’s most liveable city

Vienna has been ranked as the world’s most liveable city for the past 10 years by Mercer Consulting and The Economist. It also regularly tops lists as a tourist destination and increasingly as a place to do business. Site of a United Nations headquarters, Vienna is home to nearly 2 million residents from over 180 countries around the world. A high standard of living is made possible by the city’s 30,000 employees, making the city one of Austria’s largest employers.

A brand to serve residents

The city of Vienna set Saffron the challenge of developing a brand strategy that could better serve residents, city employees, businesses and students. With over 70 departments, the city’s positioning and communications had become complicated by myriad sub-brands that obscured the role of the city government and created inefficiencies for staff.

The new brand needed to reinforce Vienna’s modernity, being ranked No.1 smart city worldwide, ahead of Chicago and Singapore by Roland Berger consulting. Further it needed to unite civil servants around a shared vision of the city’s role and common ambitions for future development. Most of all, the new brand had to make it easier for citizens to identify and access city services.

From seventy to one

A new brand architecture was needed to represent the municipality’s organisational units with clarity. Saffron’s strategy and design teams devised a monolithic model that significantly reduces the current strategic and visual noise. Replacing internal numbering of departments, a focus is placed on simplified names for each department, endorsed by the City of Vienna logotype. The streamlined architecture establishes a single citizen-facing brand, whose promise is kept daily by Vienna’s 70-plus departments. This allows a more effective and efficient mode of operation, service delivery and communication.

The spirit of Vienna

The brand strategy was developed through a process of distillation. Saffron began with a series of workshops to audit external perceptions and find out how residents, business people, students and city employees currently see the city. From these perceptions, we identified the key themes that differentiate Vienna from other leading European cities.

Der Mensch in der Mitte: Humans at heart

The key themes were further boiled down into the brand idea: der Mensch in der Mitte/Humans at heart. The thought and practice of humans being at the heart of everything the city of Vienna does. Making the world’s highest standard of living available to many and not the few, maintaining 50% of the city’s area as green land, providing free education, healthcare and affordable housing to nearly 2 million people, operating at a human scale and with people in mind has long been the Viennese ethos.

From this brand idea, we developed a messaging matrix that explains how to communicate to varying audiences, on many issues. It interprets the brand idea from the point of view of those audiences and brings it to life in a relevant way.

Brought to life by employees

Alongside external groups, the employees of the municipality were a primary audience and would be central to the successful implementation of the brand. Saffron evaluated and amended the existing Employee Value Proposition to align it with the new brand. It is now woven through HR processes and policies, providing a standard to live up to and to work by.

A collaborative methodology

We developed a workshop methodology to ensure the government’s teams and departments were engaged to find a solution. From gauging internal and external perceptions to identifying core brand themes, the municipality’s project team and employees from across departments contributed via multiple workshops. We also worked with Brand Ambassadors from across Vienna to engage all departments and bring them on board.

Citizen journeys

To ensure that the brand development would make a difference in the life of Vienna’s citizens, we ran a series of citizen journey workshops with citizen-facing municipality representatives. We analysed and mapped over 50 interactions between residents, students and business people with the city. From identified weaknesses and strengths we agreed where changes could feasibly be made to bring the new brand idea to life through the city’s services.

Visual identity

Vienna needed a pragmatic design system to bring to life the new brand architecture. The design challenge was to create visual identity that would maintain the personality of the city within the monolithic brand architecture.

The resulting brand would be highly prominent in the lives of Vienna’s inhabitants, emblematic of the city government’s role. With the visual identity framing essential touchpoints with citizens and communications campaigns part of day-to-day life, the identity had to be clear, useful and relevant.

Tightly coordinated with the brand idea, the elements of the visual identity reflect the personality of the city through iconography, typography and imagery. It respects the efficiency of the government, whilst embodying the colour and human centricity of the place and its residents.

A voice for Vienna

In collaboration with international typeface designers Dalton Maag, we commissioned a bespoke typeface, the Wiener Melange. Inspired by the curves of the emblematic shield and named for Vienna’s famous coffee, the typeface draws on cultural assets of the city, from the lettering of the Secession to the characters found on historic inns.

Bringing the shield to life

A range of lively interpretations of the coat of arms were illustrated to provide the municipality with a communication tool. They express the brand idea of the people at the heart of everything, using the shield as a frame to shed light on the people of Vienna, allowing the shield to reflect the personality of the city and her residents.

Designed to be simple to navigate, the identity is functional for residents and easy to apply for the teams working to communicate on behalf of the government.

Real value for citizens

Vienna now has a brand that can support the municipality’s ambition to continue being the world’s most liveable city. People in Vienna will now be able to better recognise urban services, and have a consistent and unmistakable design identity for their city administration. With initial project costs expected to amortize within 2 years as a result of savings provided by a streamlined brand architecture, the project provides real value for taxpayers.

Employees are united around the goal of building a city fit for the future that respects the culture of the past. Vienna has the foundations it needs to fulfill its role as an international player, alongside other world-leading cities.

The brand was launched in April 2019 and Saffron continues to work with the city of Vienna to ensure the municipality’s 70+ departments are engaged with the brand and are bringing it to life.

The complexity of the City of Vienna’s brand architecture, which should not be underestimated, was captured precisely, shaped into a strategy and finally into a beautifully relevant design derived from it.

Martin Schipany