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Adorable Metro Illustrations Take Viewers on a Joyride Through Saigon

As fans of Vietnam’s busiest city, graphic designers An Nguyễn and Học Nguyễn launched a mock communication campaign to create prospective visual branding for the upcoming Ho Chi Minh City Metro. The vibrant project celebrates the city’s many identities through the crossover between its different lifebloods — namely traffic, food, architecture and people.

After breaking ground in 2012 with a total investment of VND50,000 billion, the forthcoming HCMC Metro system is undoubtedly one of the most-anticipated public projects for Saigoneers. Not only is it a needed addition to the city’s much-strained transport network, the new railway also marks a turning point for local economic and transportation development.

Taking note of this, two graphic design majors at Hoa Sen University, An Nguyễn and Học Nguyễn, chose the HCMC Metro as the central theme for their university capstone project, "Mê Trô Mê Phố." Making use of illustrations, animations, posters and other design elements, the project envisions what a future branding campaign for the train system might look like.

Through a virtual exchange with Saigoneer, An and Học open up about how they first got aboard the idea: “We think that the Metro’s existence will one day parallel the growth of Saigon's culture, history and population, so we’re using it as a concept to help people familiarize themselves with its presence. [....] The Metro is also the result of a decade's worth of labor by thousands of workers, so we want to create something good enough to meet the effort and expectation that went into this.”

Mapping out the initial layers, the two artists studied how countries with well-invested mass transit systems like Thailand, Singapore and Japan run their own promotional and communication campaigns. Next, with the help of lecturer Trần Thị Nhật Trâm, An and Học’s capstone advisor, the group had the opportunity to work directly with MAUR — The Management Authority for Urban Railways, which oversees the Metro's development and operation — to visit the underground stretch of the first line.

"For us, the Metro isn’t just something to travel on, it’s also an indirect message about the culture and traditions of a city, of a country even. That’s why we’re using HCMC Metro to deliver Saigon’s old-fashioned charms and cultural values to everyone," Học says.

“The management board has made it easy for us to be as creative as possible. We were provided with loads of information, internal documents, seminars, and trips to the station under the Opera House, the depot in District 9, etc. so we were able to visualize some of the most important assets that we wanted to show in our mock campaign.”

The duo also stated that they intentionally picked the name Mê Trô, not only because it’s how locals would pronounce Metro, but also because the word (to be passionate about) evokes a certain fondness from Vietnamese-speaking individuals, which in a way directs the public’s affection toward the rails.

In addition to iconic structures such as Bến Thành Market or the Opera House, the designers also included some fine little things that make Saigon special in their hearts. For Học, it’s the orange jasmine flowers that play a little cameo role in the “Mê Hương” poster.

“They’re little flowers that are often planted along the streets. When walking under their canopies, you can whiff a subtle scent of jasmine and orange, it’s a very unique feature of Saigon. This is probably the most personal thing that I brought into the project; it’s such a memorable part of my childhood.”

The duo said that what they loved the most about the project was being able to explore Saigon’s culture through different mediums. Apart from the visual illustrations, the group also created video clips, AR-based motion graphics, an essential oil, a soundtrack, a mascot, and even a rap song. When all is said and done, they too look forward to getting around town on the Metro whenever it officially commences service.

"I'm most definitely taking Line 1 from Ben Thanh to Suoi Tien," Học says, whereas An thinks "everyone should visit the depot station in District 9 once to see different trains coming at the same time, learn how they’re maintained and how the operation runs everything, to better understand the full scale of the Metro system."

While we’re all impatiently waiting for the Metro to finally roll in, let us hitchhike around Saigon a little bit through these adorable illustrations from Mê Trô Mê Phố:

[Images via An Nguyễn and Học Nguyễn's Behance]

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