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    Fixed This! Yes, that train will take you there

    Crosscut's Design Review Board unveils new signage for Sound Transit's LINK light rail trains from SeaTac.

    The Crosscut Design Review Board's (CDRB) initial foray into crowd sourcing great design met with humbling, though not altogether discouraging results.

    Our original story about the regrettable state of finding one's way from the airport to downtown via light rail kicked up a good bit of dust online and in the comments area. Alas, the CDRB's subsequent call to "Fix This!" design by submitting your own better solutions was less than successful.

    Guess we got what we paid for, which wasn't much.

    Undaunted, the CDRB sharpened its pixels and came up with its own light rail map. A workmanlike version to be sure but also, in the board's view, a design that works better than the signage now on offer aboard Sound Transit's light rail trains.

    See for yourself. The current version of the sign, and the CDRB's new version are presented below.

    We think our version works better for the following reasons:

    1. It answers some important questions upon first glance: Does the train go to Seattle? If I take it, can I get to the Pike Place Market or near a ferry? If I'm heading to the airport, where do I go when I arrive in front of a giant parking garage?

    2. The map features squiggles in all the places where the train actually turns, because nothing blows a user's confidence in a map more quickly than when the lines on the map are straight and the rig you're riding on is obviously swerving all over the place.

    3. We removed the cute station icons. Now, a lone dot represents each stop and we use words to explain what's at that stop. There isn't room on the sign for multiple languages, but there is a technical solution that's ideal: put a Quick Response (QR) code on the graphic that lets riders scan the sign and see the map rendered in foreign languages, or get detailed information about each stop, right on their own smartphones. 

    4. Our map also includes information about which buses connect to the train at each station, just because we're friendly like that. This also raises an important point: To be useful, signage design has to evolve. There’s no such thing as set-it-and-forget-it here. Agencies will need to put new stickers up when the bus routes change. Consider it the price of functionality.

    What's missing in our yeoman signage effort is artfulness. We kept Sound Transit's blue-green palette, though we did take pains to include some (graphic design cliché alert) gradient fills. You’re welcome. Elevating public design above the ordinary, while also achieving optimum effectiveness should always be the goal.

    Here's the current version of Sound Transit's in-train signage:

    Here's the CDRB's redo:

    (Click here for a closer look at the redesign map.)

    Excellence in public design isn't easy, but it is worth striving for. It takes forethought, resources and a commitment to gathering a wide array of opinions from outside the bubble of whichever bureaucracy is paying the bills.

    More of these design challenges await — for you, the CDRB and Sound Transit. As Crosscut commenter JGP pointed out, the challenge of making the system understandable will grow as the system grows: "Has anyone at Sound Transit noticed that as light rail extends northward, there will be three - count 'em - three stations named University: University Street, University of Washington, and University District. Two of those will be back to back on the map.” JGP's solution? Start thinking “now” about how to rename the downtown University Street station.

    We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

    We are not authorized to reveal biographical information about members of CDRB - at this time.

    Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!


    Posted Tue, Feb 19, 7:24 a.m. Inappropriate

    Please make your new map clickable, so we can enlarge it enough to read it.

    Posted Tue, Feb 19, 8:35 a.m. Inappropriate

    Yes, please, but even at this magnification, it looks very useable.


    Posted Tue, Feb 19, 8:35 a.m. Inappropriate

    Agree. Allow us to enlarge it. But it does look good. The CDRB is a great idea, don't abandon it. (if necessary, partner with worth1000.com on future efforts for a broader audience)


    Posted Tue, Feb 19, 10:26 a.m. Inappropriate

    When did the International District take on the additional designation "Chinatown" as shown on the Sound Transit map? Is that for the benefit of tourists?


    Posted Tue, Feb 19, 11:29 a.m. Inappropriate

    The C/ID has always had "Chinatown" as part of its name. Ruby Chow (the mother of former Councilmemeber Cheryl Chow) was known for fighting to keep the "C" in the "ID". Chinese in the C/ID still feel strongly about it today.

    Here's some history on it: http://www.historylink.org/index.cfm?DisplayPage=output.cfm&File;_Id=1058

    Posted Tue, Feb 19, 12:06 p.m. Inappropriate

    The URL seems to be corrupted. It comes back with the error "Error resolving parameter FILE_ID." I had never heard the International District referred to as "Chinatown" until just a few years ago, and at the time I assumed that that formulation must have been a newcomer's mistake, like The Puget Sound. "Chinatown" in Seattle is a new one on me.


    Posted Tue, Feb 19, 1:20 p.m. Inappropriate

    Oops. Looks like a semicolon decided to join the URL party.

    Posted Fri, Feb 22, 10:35 a.m. Inappropriate

    No—"International District" is the new term. When I was growing up in the 1980s, we knew it just as "Chinatown."

    Posted Tue, Feb 19, 11:38 a.m. Inappropriate

    RE: The name for the University Street station. How about the Financial District Station? It's already on some directional signage inside the station, iirc.

    Or, maybe since SAM and Benaroya are there, the Downtown Arts Station? Maybe Benaroya Station? It does have an entrance under Benaroya Hall.

    Of course, UW hasn't been on University street since 1895. Why not just change the name of the street?

    Posted Wed, Feb 20, 10:26 p.m. Inappropriate

    Denny and Yesler haven't been on their namesake streets either since the 19th century but we are not changing the names of Denny Way and Yesler Way


    Posted Fri, Feb 22, 10:35 a.m. Inappropriate


    Posted Wed, Feb 20, 4:55 a.m. Inappropriate

    Back in the day, when the downtown transit tunnel was first opened, I recall a conversation about the University Street station name. The assumption then was that in that far distant future, when rail transit finally came to the region and extended to the University of Washington -- that's when the University Street station would be renamed to something else to avoid the inevitable confusion.

    Well, that time is fast approaching, but new people are now in charge -- people for whom clarity in signage and visual communication is not their highest priority. I'm curious how it will all work out.

    Posted Wed, Feb 20, 10:19 p.m. Inappropriate

    I really do not see much point in sticking the bus numbers at the bottom. Either you know what bus you need and where to catch it (i.e., you are a local familiar with transit) or you going to have to get help finding what bus you need in which case you can find out where to catch it at the same time.


    Posted Fri, Feb 22, 10:59 a.m. Inappropriate

    How about Arts District, with Benaroya Hall and SAM just steps away, and ACT a few blocks to the east.
    I like the bus numbers, but I also like the idea of a QR code that links to bus/transit information from that station that will probably be more useful; perhaps a link/QR code to the OneBusAway so anyone can see the next bus leaving.
    The original map may have been lovely to look at for some, but it was devoid of information, and fails the good design test just on that basis.


    Posted Fri, Feb 22, 9:31 p.m. Inappropriate

    Good map. One problem I see: the buses listed omit the NW sector lines (5, 26, 28, 40, others?) because they stop at other 3rd Ave stops. They are only a block from Westlake station and should be indicated somehow.


    Posted Sat, Feb 23, 10:13 a.m. Inappropriate

    Terrific, clean and clear.

    Now, will Sound Transit use this?

    Posted Sat, Feb 23, 10:15 a.m. Inappropriate

    Chinatown has always been called Chinatown. Only newcomers call it the International district.

    Posted Mon, Feb 25, 4:33 p.m. Inappropriate

    The International District and/or Chinatown name situation is complex. I vaguely recall he historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places has the name something like "Chinatown/International District." The historic district protected by the City of Seattle ordinance has the name "International District" I believe--it's often referred to as "the ID."

    The International District boundaries do take in more than the area that was historically Seattle's Chinatown. The corner of Sixth and Main was the center of the pre-World War II Japanese American community. I believe the area east of I-5 that is within the International District boundaries includes a commercial center of Seattle's Vietnamese American community.

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