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How does a 100-year-young Arab capital, set in an ancient land, reflect its identity of diversity? How does it signal a move towards systemized and sustainable planning for public transport? How does it communicate with, and engage its growing and overwhelmingly young population?

These were some of the questions on our mind when SYNTAX was commissioned to develop the first major branding program for Jordan’s capital city – Amman. GAM’s mayor at the time, Omar Maani, had instigated a series of initiatives that brought new energy and dynamism to the city, coinciding with a new urban culture of a city that was starting to understand and accept itself. A city of new aspirations that wanted to embrace better planning practices, public transport and a colorful, vibrant new visual identity.

With repeated waves of regional immigration over the last century, Amman grew from a small city of a few thousand people, to a metropolis of over 2.7 million people from diverse origins in the region.

Humans have inhabited Amman for many millennia, as evidenced in the Citadel and its large Roman theatre. But today’s Amman is still the youngest capital in the Levant, a region that boasts old capitals like Damascus, Cairo and Baghdad.

Growing quickly from a village to a metropolis, Amman has always had a “practical”, almost utilitarian, feel to it. Amman experienced large growth spurts with elites which had roots in other places. Although earlier on, Amman had developed a civil identity that was liberated from the influence of entrenched traditions, nevertheless it was slow in accepting its own urban identity, and remains to this day an uneasy comparison to other Arab capitals.

A combination of factors made this task quite challenging, and exciting for SYNTAX at the same time. The city generally lacked urban intensity, experienced denial by its inhabitants of an urban character, and faced the perception from visitors that Amman is “bland” or “boring”. It was seen as a city that does not offer itself very easily to outsiders, making their experience less exciting in comparison to other cities in the region.

Hundreds of citizens from all walks of life were interviewed for this project, as we set out on a journey that took us through Amman’s hills and history, as well as its contemporary reality, and future aspirations. We had the most interesting discussions with many insightful Ammani personalities: people who love Amman, but who are also able to critically dissect its identity. We talked to the young and old, from different areas of the city. We read and saw it through the words of poets, novelists, historians, architects, anthropologists, and bloggers.

We took photos. We designed logos. We created typefaces.

We discovered that we, Ammanis, hardly know our city. Amman’s diversity was strongly matched with stark disparities, openness, homeliness, relative stability, and ease. Its people’s resilience and spirit of initiative, as well as its unique topography, weather, architecture and nature, offered potential to form a vibrant collage, and a potentially pioneering “city brand”. On the other hand, there were also forces of urban fragmentation, carelessness, and a weakness of engagement that needed to be overcome if this city wanted to truly fulfill its potential.

Our strategic recommendations included measures for telling Amman’s story, strengthening public space/public transport/public participation, and instilling a “citizen first” attitude in GAM’s services and communication to bring Amman’s city brand to life.

The most visible part of our work with GAM has been the new logo, which is based on the myth of Amman’s original seven hills, with the word “Amman” in Arabic cut out in an open ended manner. This logo was voted for in a public exhibition with several options, and was visited by almost a thousand interested citizens. It can now be seen on flags, buses, street furniture, signs, as well as GAM’s publications and buildings.

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A brand book was also developed, which included the strategic brand model, and a full set of visual design standards to ensure consistency for the new visual identity. A strategic brand implementation roadmap was also developed, recommending measures in the areas of transport, signage, service delivery, events, tourism, and leisure. These were intended to translate the brand’s values into “moments of truth” and “positive experiences” in the city, taking this branding program beyond the mere “badging” of municipality media and assets.

The branding of Amman also ended up leading to the development of a unique bilingual typeface for the city. German type designer and SYNTAX collaborator Yanone developed what has become one of the world’s most extensive bilingual typefaces, which is now being marketed worldwide as FF Amman. The typeface has been embraced by GAM and is increasing becoming part of Amman’s visual landscape, being used on street signs, posters, websites and advertising material.

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Since the launch of the Amman Brand in 2009, and despite the political and economic turmoil Amman has been going through in recent years, the new Amman logo and the identity it represents has become part of the Ammani experience, reflecting a city that can start to show its different colors and engage its citizens and guests alike.