New York can be a complicated city to get around in, especially if you’re visiting for the first time. Travelers are required to navigate busy train stations to get to their trains, some of which are local, some of which are express, and some of which take you in a completely different direction than where you want to go. Given this, I was pleasantly surprised the first time I came to visit that I didn’t have too much trouble getting where I needed to go. Simple, color-coded train labels with sans-serif fonts really did help, and there were some little touches too like the one posted below.
Most of the complicated pedestrian areas (malls, airports, etc) that I’ve been in will give you one arrow guiding to your destination, followed by another one at the next turning point, trusting that you’ll be able to follow the trail of breadcrumbs that they’ve laid out. This sign in Union Station, however, goes an extra step just by letting you know that, while the path to the L train starts in the same direction as the NQRW, the L is actually two floors down. It’s a small thing, but without it I could imagine getting confused as to why I saw the NQRW trains going by but no sign of the L.
I started coming here regularly around 2010, and wayfinding around the city has largely been improved since then, thanks in large part to video display technology.
This, I think, is a great example of how new technology can be used very effectively. Sometimes taking this train saves me a little bit of time, sometimes it’s faster just to walk to Union Station. Thanks to the display out front, I no longer need to go into the station to see if it’s worthwhile. I can take a quick glance at the schedule and make my decision while hardly even pausing to think about it.
Of course, not all the changes in design brought about by video technology are good changes.
Here are two LCD displays at my local subway stop. One side has up-to-date train information, and one side is just a still image New York’s famous subway map. It looks fine from a distance, but up close –
While this map isn’t impossible to read, it isn’t exactly easy, either. To fix the situation, I would suggest using a display with a much higher resolution –
The resolution on the printed sign is much better than whatever it is on the TV. If the content being displayed doesn’t need to change or react to anything (this display never changed), then I don’t see any reason not to use a physical sign. Just because one solution is more high-tech doesn’t mean it’s the right one.
I noticed this set of signs outside of a store in Manhattan –
I have to assume that the owner of this place put up three signs in a column so that people would take the warning seriously. Unfortunately, the message of the sign is delivered three times in the same way, so I don’t think it’s as effective as it could be (especially for those who don’t speak English). To help clarify things and to really help maximize the impact of the sign, I combined all three into one and added some easy-to-understand imagery.
I think that’s a little harder to miss.