This article has been split apart from the coverage of the October TTC Board meeting to accommodate updates and to keep the comment thread separate from other issues.
The Board considered a presentation entitled New Wayfinding Standards which, among other things, proposed a change in naming for subway lines to the use of numerals. This has provoked no end of comment, some on this blog, as an ill-advised waste of money.
More to the point, this presentation is neither a “standard” nor a comprehensive review of TTC wayfinding. It is an overview of a few changes, and even these are not set out on a thorough basis. What we have here is a proposed trial, but not a systemic review of wayfinding.
The goals are simple: avoid multiple styles of signs, convey information in a consistent way so that riders know the “language” of the signs across the system, make maps easier to understand, and make all forms of wayfinding more accessible. One style, one letter font, one style of branding should identify a “TTC” message wherever it appears.
Consistency and legibility are not important just for the casual user, but for the regular passenger who may be in an unfamiliar part of the system. They may walk through their “home” station on auto-pilot, but off of their regular territory, they too will be “tourists”.
The TTC has a recognizable “brand”, the flying keystone, but this has been diluted over the years by numerous slogans, different marketing campaigns that have left their marks on the system like shells accumulating on the sea floor.
The original TTC logo from the days of the Toronto Transortation Commission did not have the wings. These were added when “rapid transit” came on the scene. The colours of the logo on left reflect the fleet colours of the time.
In this example, we have the keystone logo in its current red-and-white format and two separate slogans each with its own typeface. Neither of these is the well-known “Subway” font used for station names on much, but not all, of the system.
This is intended to be the simplified, standard logo with simply the organization name and no additional messages.
Passengers wandering through the system need to be able to decide where to go quickly even if they are in an unfamiliar location. This is important at congested points where a single rider stopped because they can’t easily see the appropriate path can block many more.
That’s a nice idea, but we must see whether the TTC actually achieves this goal with proposed new signs.
Recently, a new “standard” construction notice began to appear.
This maintains the red-and-white colour scheme, but it is different from other notices that have appeared for station maintenance projects, a standard that is itself fairly new. This style is also poor for use in electronic copies where black ink on white paper with limited use of colour endears organizations to people wishing to produce printed copies as handouts.
It is unclear which of the construction notices is to be the new “standard”, and how long this will last before someone dreams up yet a new way to present this type of information.
Current signage and other materials (web pages, printed materials) have many formats.
This is only a sample. Notable by its absence is the style found in some older stations such as the original BD line where the “subway” font is used for directional signage, not just for station names. These represent various generations of design each considered valid in its time, but presenting an inconsistent whole.
The use of names and colours is inconsistent and, in some cases, it is rather subtle. The TTC would like to move to line numbers, but would keep line names.
The intent here is not simply to use numbers but also to establish the circle as indicating “rapid transit”. However, no proposals has been made for surface routes, let alone how locations with other providers services (e.g. GO Transit, Mississauga, VIVA, etc) would handle consolidated signage.
When these are combined into other sign forms, however, consistency takes a beating.
Why, for example, is some information in such small type (compare “All Trains” with “Northbound”)? Why is the “Fares” sign unique in having a blue background? Why does line 4 run westbound “to Sheppard” rather than to “Sheppard-Yonge”, the actual name of the terminal station?
In these signs, the subway pictogram has become a numeral, but the mode-specific pictograms would remain as generic references to buses and streetcars.
One of the worst problems at major stations is visual clutter. The presentation gives a before-and-after view of the east concourse at Bloor-Yonge intended to show how signs could be more prominent, but actually demonstrating a much more severe problem.
Although there is somewhat improved information about the location of trains for lines 1 and 2, the dominant message here is that this is the “Corolla” station. Leaving aside the fact that this is a competing technology, the basic problem is that “station domination” advertising can totally swamp the viewer in images that have nothing to do with wayfinding. On particularly memorable Amex campaign even managed to cover up the station names and was so visually busy that one could have a hard time finding the directional signs.
This is a basic policy issue about wayfinding: yes, the TTC needs advertising revenue, but it should not allow campaigns that make the stations illegible even to the point of being unrecognizable.
In the sample above, note that the sign over the escalator lists “Eastbound” and “Westbound” rather than using the “All Trains” designation introduced in the samples above.
St. George Station fares a bit better, but shows how much more is to be done.
Notable in the new sign is the disappearance of the red-and-white “Exit” designation. This brings up the question of cases where certain signs may require standard formats under the Building Code. Both the St. George and Bedford concourses lead to exits from the station, but it is unclear whether the term “Exit” here is intended to say “this is the shortest way out”.
A sample street entrance is shown for Osgoode, here at the northeast corner of Queen and University.
Leaving aside the less-than-ideal letterspacing in “Osgoode”, this sign begs the question of whether so much real estate should be devoted to directing would-be riders to another entrance in a way that requires both fluency in English and a knowledge of local geography. It is quite conceivable that some entrances will require space for more information, and there must be a policy about the hierarchy of messages. All entrances do not have a large wall space over a stairway and the space available for supplementary information may be limited.
There are other samples in the presentation, but I think that I have made the point that the samples are not fully thought out and don’t represent a comprehensive “standard” for new signage. (I am avoiding the term “wayfinding” as that implies somewhat more than updating the look of signs to the current administration’s preferred flavour.) Also, beyond the issue of composite identification of routes with a symbol, colour, number and name, there is no discussion of accessibility.
A sample of an expanded Rapid Transit map is worth including here, if only for amusement.
First off, note that the exploded section focused on Sheppard-Yonge station would not appear on the regular map. It is intended to show more detail as part of the presentation.
In this case, we have the “future” lines 5-Eglinton (not “Crosstown”), 6-Sheppard East LRT and 7-Finch West LRT co-existing with 3-Scarborough RT in a configuration that will never exist (unless the RT leads an unusually charmed life and Toronto gets a serious penchant for building LRT).
This map shows the ongoing problem with trying to preserve a map format that is out of scale (vertical vs horizontal) to reality so that it will fit in the space over a doorway on a subway car.
TTC staff, who earlier this year appeared to have the system route map targeted for oblivion, have reconsidered and now recognize that there is a need for such a map. The problem is how to convey a mass of information in this format.
Here are three versions of a segment of the system map. First is the current Ride Guide which uses a street map as an underlying grid.
Next is a guide with routes given different colours for clarity where many of them run close together (I will skate past the issue of colour blindness already raised with respect to subway colours). None of the colours, other than those of the subway lines, has any meaning.
Finally, we have a map where the lines indicate the frequency of service. In particular, routes with frequent service get a thicker line. There are many, many errors on this map including the omission of the Eglinton services 32/34 as “frequent” routes, the indication that the 97 Yonge bus provides service south of Davisville all of the time, and coding the 140 series of routes as if they were all-day services when they are peak-only. I will be generous and hope that this is just a sample, and that if a real map appears using this scheme, better proof-reading is applied to it.
During his presentation, the TTC’s Chris Upfold quoted Jarrett Walker’s line “frequency equals freedom”, but did not really put this in the proper context. If anything, the map above shows just how much of the central area of Toronto does not have “frequent” service much of the time.
All of this is very much in early stages, and yet we may see some of the ideas rolled out early in 2014 when print media come up for their regular refresh. There is a chance that we would see a new “standard” evolve without enough time to discuss what the real goals may be.
Overall, my feeling about the presentation is that as a wayfinding system it is far from “ready for prime time”. These are a scattered set of ideas, but not an overall style guide, and the interaction of various proposals has not been thought through.
The TTC plans to implement a trial of new signage at Bloor-Yonge and St. George this winter. In most cases, existing signs will be covered with vinyl wraps (just like advertising campaigns) using the new layouts. Only illuminated signs require new inserts, and these will be sized to existing fixtures.
The whole matter will come back to the Board for discussion sometime in 2014 complete with a cost estimate. That may be premature because without a overall style manual or a sense of how far the TTC would go in retrofitting existing signage, it is difficult to know what the scope of cost would be.