After asking the public last year for input on pictograms to identify new Link stations from Angle Lake to Northgate, Sound Transit revealed them in its Northgate project update last week. The new pictograms will appear on redesigned signage in stations and on board trains later this year in advance of U Link’s opening. Sound Transit provided me with a document describing their design approach and a report of community input. While it does not show or explain the final pictogram designs, you can see the process that led to them.
In lieu of an official description from Sound Transit, here are my interpretations of each station pictogram, from south to north:
Angle Lake is represented by a rainbow trout, which can be caught in the lake. The shape of the fish also resembles the shape of the lake itself. It is the official state fish and the state stocks the lake with it. Expect to see people with their fishing gear on the train when the station opens later in 2016.
Capitol Hill is the rainbow ‘Pride’ flag, honoring the neighborhood’s association with Seattle’s LGBT community. Although the actual flag is commonly seen with six colored stripes, the pictogram is rendered in monochrome as part of its signage program, ST spokesperson Bruce Gray told Capitol Hill Seattle Blog.
University of Washington is a mortarboard cap with the UW’s block ‘W’ logo. This is the most obvious of the pictograms, at least to this Husky. The mortarboard represents academia and is worn in the commencement ceremony which the UW hosts in Husky Stadium, whose parking lot the station is situated. The university and the medical center is the block ‘W’ logo. The logo is trademarked and I assume ST was granted permission to use it.
U District is a stack of three thick textbooks, possibly referring to the nearby University Book Store which has anchored “The Ave” shopping district for more than 90 years. The books also represent education, which is why the neighborhood exists.
Roosevelt is a Bull Moose, a nickname for the Progressive Party founded by Theodore Roosevelt, who is the neighborhood’s namesake. The neighboring street and high school are also named after the 26th president. At first glance, it could be seen as a Roosevelt Elk but people who know their moose from their elk can tell them apart.
Northgate is a dragonfly. It mimics the Green Darner Dragonfly artwork to be installed in the station, which can be seen from the platform and mezzanine. Dragonflies are commonly found in the recently daylighted Thornton Creek near the station. The dragonfly is also the state insect.
While I think the symbolism and intent of having pictograms are great, they are just not implemented very well. Here are ST’s requirements for effective pictograms, from last year’s questionnaire:
- Simple in form, and are an easily recognizable symbol
- Readable at many scales; including signage, print material, online and mobile devices
- Are individually distinguishable and read as a family
Cameron Booth, a professional graphic designer who writes the Transit Maps blog, criticized the existing Link pictograms as “overly detailed” and “reproduce terribly at small sizes.” He cites Mexico City’s Metro “bold and simple” station icons as a good example that ST itself used as an example but instead did “the absolute opposite”. I can apply Booth’s critique to U District’s book stack and Capitol Hill’s rainbow flag.
U District’s book stack is not readable (pun not intended) on a dark background. SODO’s anvil is most similar to the books in design and perspective but functions better because it is a single object with a recognizable shape and minimal ink within the pictogram itself. The books, however, just look like a square blob.
Capitol Hill’s rainbow Pride flag is a case of completely changing the meaning through loss of detail at small size. The rainbow flag turns into a white flag of surrender or a black/blue flag of many things, because the keylines that separate the bands disappear when shrunk. It still looks like a flag, big or small, so it works in that respect and perhaps I am overthinking this.
A rainbow, which was an overwhelmingly popular suggestion at 48, would have been visually clearer and just as, if not more, inclusive and representative of the neighborhood. The arc shape of the rainbow is also reminiscent of how many legislative chambers are arranged (not Washington’s), the dome shape of capitol buildings, and a hill. Many of the adjectives suggested in the questionnaire like diverse, vibrant, fun, etc. could be symbolized by a rainbow, without the added layer of a flag.