Unofficial Map: Crosscut’s Seattle Link Light Rail Strip Map
Crosscut, a non-profit news website centered on Washington State’s Puget Sound Region, has been talking about Link light rail’s signage for a while now. Their point about the minimal directional signage at SeaTac Airport to guide you to the train is valid, but their problem with Link’s own in-car strip map is less well founded.
They recently called for new designs as part of a competition, but unfortunately didn’t receive any. So they took it upon themselves to design one, and came up with the map at the bottom of the image above. They seem to think it successful, but I have to disagree in just about every respect.
The main problem with their redesign is that it doesn’t take into account where the map is to be used. It’s meant to sit above the door of a light rail carriage, which means it’s around six-and-a-half feet off the ground. Unless you’re very tall, you’re never going to get closer than about a foot to it. The train will often be crowded, and that means you may have to read it from even further away than that, while the train is moving. Simplicity, large type and ease of use are paramount.
I chose the image above because it simulates those typical viewing conditions. The top image shows the current strip map, the bottom one is a hastily composited version of the Crosscut map onto the same picture. At the same viewing distance, almost all of the extra information Crosscut has included is absolutely impossible to read, and even the station names are smaller. The huge lists of every bus route that connects with Link are useless, as are the points of interest listed at each station. If bus routes had to be included on a map like this, I would advocate that only frequent or rapid routes be shown.
The twists and turns in the route line on the Crosscut map make the one really vital piece of information that a traveller needs to know — how many stops until I get off? — that much harder to find. It’s much easier to visually scan along a straight line than a bent one. A straight line also acts as a subtle guarantee of directness and speed, while a bent one implies a circuitous and longer trip. Yes, it’s propaganda (and sometimes close to a lie), but that’s one of the reasons that route lines are straightened out.
Crosscut also mention (but don’t show) the possibility of adding QR codes to the map for further information, but really — who’s going to hold their smart phone up to a map mounted above the door to scan a QR code?
The one part of the Crosscut map that I agree with — the deletion of the awful “Constellation” icons — may not even be possible. I seem to recall being told that their inclusion was mandatory as a visual aid for illiterate transit users.
Packing an in-car strip map with all this extraneous information is poor information design, and would be much better left to a unified system of system maps, locality maps, and wayfinding signage. Which already exists at most Link stations.
(Source for original “before” photo: Alex Abboud/Flickr)