For Comm Lab: Visual Language, I had to find two examples of successful signage and two examples of unsuccessful signage, and correct one of the failures. Let's start with the signs that worked.

Good Signage

Right here in the ITP bathroom, some pretty good paper towel dispenser instructions. Instructions in three common languages, but the graphics tell the whole story on their own. Two ways to operate the dispenser, one way not to that's crossed out, and the difference between one-handed and two-handed operation is clear. I could imagine a couple of small improvements: (1) make the X over the center graphic red, and (2) add a little ↺ spinning arrow near the hand on the right graphic - it doesn't tell you how to operate the handle on the side. But overall, pretty effective.

IKEA is reliably clever at communicating with pictures. Simple drawings of what to do and what not to do, with the division between the two made clear by both facial expressions and the universal cross-out. Moreover, the ways things might go wrong are shown pretty clearly in the cartoons.

The MTA is fun to pick on for bad signage, which I'll do later, but at least the warning graphics on their doors are pretty clear:

The little stick figure is hard to misunderstand.

Bad Signage

Bad signage isn't hard to find. To start off, here's one right here on the floor.

I don't even know how to correct this, because I have no idea what that red arrow is pointing to. It's not pointing to the closed equipment room, since this is on the window of the ER.

Here's a bad street sign I saw at an intersection this afternoon.

So the cross-street is one-way to the left, but you can't turn left. Which means you can't turn at all. Obviously, the correction is to use one of these two:

HighwaySubway to Hell

Okay, time to pick on the MTA. First, this one is small but really bothers me because it would have been so easy for them to fix.

Do you see it?

Why would you not connect up the dotted line for the Staten Island Ferry?! All you had to do was shift it over one inch! The ferry line coming into St George isn't even labeled! You might not know that's the Staten Island Ferry!

More personally, when I first moved to New York, I remember often getting lost on platforms trying to figure out which direction to go, because the same sign would point in two different directions, and it wasn't always clear to me which part of the sign I should pay attention to. So I tried to capture some example of these particular style of bad wayfinding markers.

It's hard to tell if the "Exit" applies to the "Downtown (6) Lafayette St & Canal St," or to the "Broadway (R) (W)." Turns out it applies to the right-hand side of the sign. The fix would be simple: draw a nice bold dividing line down the center of the sign. That solution would also help in these cases:

It looks to me like you have to exit the station in order to get to the J, Z, 6, R, and W lines. Especially with the first image, which reads at first glance as "Exit to Canal St & (R) (W), Broadway." In fact, you don't have to exit the station to make those transfers, they're just in the same direction as the exits for the specified streets. All the designers need to do make that clear is add a border dividing the two halves of the sign.


Finally, the sign that I'm going to redesign. This onse is also from the MTA; it's their signage for announcing temporary service interruptions due to maintenance. Here are two examples:


All English text, hope you speak it. The dates are in very small font, even though they're one of the most important things - when I see one of these signs, the first thing I want to know is if it applies to me right now. Finally, this is about an 8.5-by-11 sheet of paper, and most of it is wasted white space. The whole thing is very easy to miss.

Let's see if we can redesign the second one.

Brainstorming for the design

First, sketching out some ideas. As you can see, I'm blatantly ripping off the times-of-the-week graphic from the San Francisco parking example we covered in class. It's a good design and solves the problem neatly. Imitation is the highest form of flattery. I'm thinking labeled calendar icons are the best way to communicate the dates where it applies. Since the dates line up in terms of the days of the week, we can arrange them in three nice rows. With those train symbols, I'm thinking to have a graphic of a labeled N train, then an arrow that would point to a train platform labeled R. The arrow would point right and upwards, to the upper level track. The story is "for N trains, go to the upper level R track."

Finally, in the bottom right of my sketch I'm planning overall layout. Four parts: headline, when, what, where. I'm keeping the headline "weekends," which I do like from the original design, because it quickly communicates the time range of the work.

The final design

And above, the final design. A few things evolved since the initial sketch. I realized that the arrow pointing up and to the right wouldn't work, because these posters are placed all over the station, not just on the (lower level) N platform. That made me realize that having a labeled N train standing at a labeled R platform was a more unambiguous and compact way to communicate the change.

I kept the text from the current design, which I thought was a good explanation of the changes, but combined the two sentences into a single one for further brevity. The graphics should communicate the same message to non-English-speakers.

When making the calendar graphic with the blocked-out times, I was originally planning to have the area where the work applied in red, and the weekdays in green. I felt a little weird about this, since red communicates "no," and there's not no N train service during the specified times, just service changes. But I figured the two colors were a nice universally recognized pair. Then, just before I finished, I realized another problem - it wouldn't be legible to people who are red-green colorblind! So I changed to the blocked-in vs. open format you see now.

Obviously, for different types of service changes, the "what" section will have to change. You would need a different graphic to communicate "F will make Q stops" - probably a map since that sounds like a change in route. But I think much of my design could be re-used across these posters, particularly the overall layout, the "when" section, and the bottom graphic showing the range of applicable stops.

Lastly, I give credit to contributors to the Noun Project, which provided the icons I used. All are licensed under Creative Commons.

Great Recruiting Here...

One little coda. This wasn't an example of bad signage, but I did notice some terrible design coming from an subway ad for... a design school.

"Your future isn't Shillington designed." Nope, I don't think it will be.

Looks like it's a three-month program, so I guess we shouldn't be too surprised.