rohdesr Asked
QuestionWhat do you thing of Sound Transit's station icons? I find them ineffective and embarrassing. And, they what opinions for new icons for new stations! You can see the survey yourself on the surveygizmo website at /s3/1584076/Pictogram-Questionnaire. Answer

I talked about Sound Transit’s station icons in this review of the Link map that’s found in ST’s timetable book back in December 2012. Like you, I’m not particularly impressed by them. I think they’re overly detailed and they reproduce terribly at small sizes. They’re even kind of hard to make out on the strip maps on trains — becoming vague, blobby shapes — which is really not a good thing for an icon.

It’s kind of funny that in the questionnaire you reference above, Sound Transit uses Lance Wyman’s gorgeous Mexico City Metro icons as a point of reference, because they’re the absolute opposite of the Seattle icons — bold and simple, with each one being immediately visually distinctive from another. 

However, icons are here to stay, as they’re mandated by Washington state law. From RCW 81.112.190 - Requirements for Signage:

The signage [for any light-rail system in Washington state] must also use distinguishing symbols or pictograms developed by the authority as a means to identify stations and may identify points of interest along the corridor for persons who use languages that are not Roman-alphabet based.

Seeing as Seattle is stuck with icons, you might as well try and get the best ones you can. If you like in Seattle and have an opinion, then you should take the survey — here’s a proper link to it.

Historical Map: Aerial View of the Puget Sound Area, Washington, c. 1940

An old postcard showing a colorised aerial photo of Seattle and the Puget Sound. Points of interest and the ferry routes of the era (pre-Washington State Ferries, which only commenced service in 1951) have then been added to the image.

It’s these ferry routes which allow us to date this charming postcard to somewhere between 1935 and 1942. The little Fletcher Bay to Brownsville ferry route (centre left on the photo) only operated between 1924 and 1942, while the Colman Dock (Seattle) to Manchester route only ran after 1935, when the old eastern terminus dock at Alki Point washed out.

(Source: alanp_photo/Flickr)

Historical Map: Kroll’s Standard Map of Seattle, 1914 

As Seattle continues with its expansion of light rail (East Link, University Link) and streetcar (Capitol Hill streetcar), here’s a look back at the city 99 years ago. This isn’t a transit map per se — rather, it’s a map of the city that also happens to show the transit network in no uncertain terms. The thick dark lines that traverse the city like veins are all streetcars, cable cars and interurban trains. Main line trains are shown by more conventional “railway line” ticked strokes — these travel to King Street Station (still in use by Amtrak and Sounder trains today) and the adjacent Union Station, which now houses the offices for Sound Transit. View a full-size version of the map here.

(Source: Rob Ketcherside/Flickr)

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)

Submission: Official Map, Seattle Central Link Light Rail
Submitted by Joshua Fan, who says:
This is an official map of Seattle’s Central Link light rail line, which opened in 2009. It appears  in the official guide of all of Sound Transit’s services, which can be found in this PDF on the Sound Transit website (this map is on page 22). Frankly, I am quite disappointed in this map: it tries to both diagrammatic and geographical, but fails on both counts (which is a common mistake that you have pointed out on several previously-reviewed maps). Between stations, the map attempts to portray a semblance of geography on the line between stations, but the distances are incorrect: for example, the downtown stations at the north end are much farther apart on this map than they are in reality. The depiction of water is even worse: the map shows a lot of details in the shoreline, suggesting that it reflects the actual geography, but however the shape of the shoreline in the map is a really ugly distortion of the reality. I am curious about what you think about it!
—
Transit Maps says: The problem with this map is that it’s trying way too hard to make Seattle’s single line of light rail look more impressive than it really is. So it (unnecessarily) shows a lot of the twists and turns in the route and some pseudo-geographic coastline, and adds some optimistic information about the time it takes to get between key stations. It’s not the worst map out there, but it’s really pretty dull. Once North Link and East Link get added to the equation, things should start looking a little more exciting.
If I was drawing this map, I’d keep the big turns in the line: the kink eastward through Tukwila which then turns north to Rainier Beach, and the Beacon Hill tunnel: the rest, I’d straighten out completely. The weird kink south of Rainier Beach is totally extraneous on a map like this.
My main problem with the Seattle map will always be the icons used to mark each of the stations. Not only do they reproduce horribly at smaller sizes — like on this printed map — but the rationale behind them is the worst type of retroactive design-speak.
For those who don’t know, the idea is that “points of interest” near the station are plotted as “stars”, and from these stars, “constellations” created as the station icons. Conveniently, the points of interest always seem to fall just where required in order for something relevant to be designed for each station. Some very selective choosing of those “interesting” places, I think.
Here’s a link to a PDF that tells you more about the Constellations for those who are interested.

Submission: Official Map, Seattle Central Link Light Rail

Submitted by Joshua Fan, who says:

This is an official map of Seattle’s Central Link light rail line, which opened in 2009. It appears  in the official guide of all of Sound Transit’s services, which can be found in this PDF on the Sound Transit website (this map is on page 22). Frankly, I am quite disappointed in this map: it tries to both diagrammatic and geographical, but fails on both counts (which is a common mistake that you have pointed out on several previously-reviewed maps). Between stations, the map attempts to portray a semblance of geography on the line between stations, but the distances are incorrect: for example, the downtown stations at the north end are much farther apart on this map than they are in reality. The depiction of water is even worse: the map shows a lot of details in the shoreline, suggesting that it reflects the actual geography, but however the shape of the shoreline in the map is a really ugly distortion of the reality. I am curious about what you think about it!

Transit Maps says: The problem with this map is that it’s trying way too hard to make Seattle’s single line of light rail look more impressive than it really is. So it (unnecessarily) shows a lot of the twists and turns in the route and some pseudo-geographic coastline, and adds some optimistic information about the time it takes to get between key stations. It’s not the worst map out there, but it’s really pretty dull. Once North Link and East Link get added to the equation, things should start looking a little more exciting.

If I was drawing this map, I’d keep the big turns in the line: the kink eastward through Tukwila which then turns north to Rainier Beach, and the Beacon Hill tunnel: the rest, I’d straighten out completely. The weird kink south of Rainier Beach is totally extraneous on a map like this.

My main problem with the Seattle map will always be the icons used to mark each of the stations. Not only do they reproduce horribly at smaller sizes — like on this printed map — but the rationale behind them is the worst type of retroactive design-speak.

For those who don’t know, the idea is that “points of interest” near the station are plotted as “stars”, and from these stars, “constellations” created as the station icons. Conveniently, the points of interest always seem to fall just where required in order for something relevant to be designed for each station. Some very selective choosing of those “interesting” places, I think.

Here’s a link to a PDF that tells you more about the Constellations for those who are interested.

Where Am I Again?

A marked-up map sitting on my desk of transit projects in Seattle somehow ends up looking uncannily like the New York subway map.

Unofficial Future Map: Seattle East Link Light Rail (Segment A)

Hey, I got to make a transit map for work! This base map will eventually show all the issues (and solutions) that my company has identified for this part of the corridor, but I can’t show you that part, just the map itself.

These “issues maps” are usually created from GIS data overlaid on a low-quality aerial photo, so it’s definitely nice to break the mould and create something more visually compelling and stylish. Using 30- and 60-degree angles instead of the usual 45 degrees: this is one of those rare occasions where it’s actually more appropriate.