Why Is State-Owned Design Always Embarrassing?

This is Trackman. Trackman (“a Vágányember”) is the new mascot of Hungarian Railways. Or was, until yesterday.


Trackman had to be recalled after only a few days due to massive public resistance and ridicule. We can’t shame the national rail company into running a better service or at least to do it less wastefully – but at least we can get rid of the mustachioed Italian on steroids.

But what is it with government design that never fails to embarrass?

Here, meet the originally intended mascot of the infamous World Aquatics Championship:

The creepy mop is an unfortunate reference to a Puli. A Puli is a dog. Photo:

The mascot that looks like it came from a Japanese horror movie has later been replace (grudgingly) – and so were the original posters. Look at the scary visuals of the event they seriously intended for public consumption:

Type fonts, anyone?

It wasn’t even a secret: both were a work of a nephew.

Somehow when a project is public, it gets more private, not less so. Instead of a serious marketing agency or a design professional, jobs get done within the family – but cost so much more. The savings are obvious. To the lucky cronies, not to the taxpayers.

There are bigger cases of corruption out there but these things are meant to be visual reminders. So be it.

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CORRECTION: There is a long history of ugly and overpaid designs by state-owned projects, but Trackman is not one of them. He was the winner of a competition by Hungarian Railway’s social media team. The company’s Facebook followers were invited to submit their ideas and a committee of random railway workers picked Trackman. (Apparently, said railway workers had a soft spot for Italian junkies and painful puns.) Trackman didn’t cost much either, his designer only got a season ticket for his/her efforts. Considering the scandal (and media attention) that followed, it was definitely worth it. 

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