cc_constellationThe Link station pictograms are a fairly self-evident accessibility feature, but the origin of these pictograms an almost entirely obscure riff on the concept of constellations, as we reported way back in 2008. Now it’s time to make the pictograms up for all the new stations between Northgate and Angle Lake:

Sound Transit is developing pictograms for future Link light rail stations. A pictogram is an icon that conveys meaning through its pictorial resemblance of a physical object. Pictograms are used on Sound Transit’s Link light rail station signage and way-finding materials. Paired with station names, they help identify stations and the surrounding neighborhood. Pictograms serve as station identification symbols for non-English customers, primarily those that use a non-Roman based alphabet.

Sound Transit would like to begin the process by getting input from you. Please take a moment to share your ideas by completing this questionnaire.

ST reports that it is “phasing out” the constellation program, in favor of simply picking a sensible pictogram.

30 Replies to “ST Picking New Pictograms”

  1. Am I the only one that thinks they’re totally silly? I can’t match a single pictogram with a station I know as it stands, and the more stations there are the more unwieldy it will become. Also it just makes the system seem like a novelty, like a ride at Disney Land or something.

    What’s wrong with station names and normal system maps? It seems to be working out just fine for all the developed transit systems around the world.

      1. Thanks for the source. Just because it’s a law doesn’t mean it’s not silly though. :)

      2. It might seem silly to those of us who can read and write, but if you can’t read in any language, then they *might* be substantially more useful.

      3. For me, riding the subway/trains in Tokyo was difficult sometimes where the station names are only in Kanji. Pictograms would have been awesome. On the other hand, it did teach me to recognize some Kanji symbols.

      4. Standard practice in the partially-literate developing world would be for the first-time traveler to seek detailed verbal directions (including landmarks) prior to traveling, and then to count stops.

        Which is, of course, far simpler than a comprehensive astronomy lesson, or than trying to explain freaking opera glasses to someone from the hinterlands.

        But leave it to Washington State to reinvent every wheel, every time, creating new problems (inscrutable signage) in order to solve nonexistent problems*, while simultaneously managing to patronize and infantilize the very populations it claims to protect.

        *(see also: assigned Cascades seating)

      5. I’d read that Tokyo stations have the Romanji spelling as well as Kanji. Is that false, or is it only a few tourist stations that do?

      6. Thanks for the state law reference. These are indeed really dumb. I filled out the survey last week with none, none, none and a free form response of something like “remove all of these from the system”. I suspect a signage consultant/fabricator asked for the law. It would be different if we had very similar station designs like DC’s Metrorail but our below ground stations are fairly distinctive and our above ground stations are really obvious.

        A far better use of funds for signage would be making the station diagrams over Link train doors read in a logical manner (or video displays so when East Link happens the displays above doors could be switched). There would need to be a north to south diagram and a south to north diagram. Currently, half the diagrams make no directional sense as there’s only one diagram above the doors regardless of train direction. Train sets would probably need to leave the base in a specific direction but it would be far more helpful for someone who wasn’t quite sure where they were going than symbols. Between next station announcements and variable message displays and correctly oriented maps above doors it would be hard to get too confused.

      7. @Mike Orr In the big cities you will often get stations (especially the big ones) with “romanized” names as well as in Korean script. Its rare to find a station in Tokyo without phonetic characters actually.

        Out in the countryside it can be a bit more difficult though. Especially with older stations.

      8. I’m also inclined to point out that Japanese Kanji is really just a superlatively evolved system of pictograms, and that D. Murray’s experience trying to decipher them is not too remote from the example of the yokel and the opera glasses.

      9. Many Asian rapid transit systems (like Tokyo and Singapore) use alphanumeric codes to identify stations in addition to the local and romanized name. In most cases those codes are simply a letter representing the line plus a number for the station in sequential order.

      10. When Link gets upwards of 50 stations, that may wind up having to be the way to go. I really don’t see how something that size works with pictograms.

        This really smells like something written by, and voted into law by, someone who has never taken transit anywhere.

      11. Ok to clarify my response from earlier, Yes a lot of stations around Tokyo have Romaji names as well but as pointed out many areas do not especially as you get to the less populated areas. (And by less populated areas i mean areas still many times denser than belltown).

        D.P. If i show someone a picture of the Westlake crown and i say go to that station. It is vastly easier to remember than saying go to 横浜駅. Especially when 新横浜駅 is nearby as well as.

      12. It’s actually just as arbitrary.

        What if I don’t have access to that precise pictogram when explaining the trip to someone? (Why the hell would I?)

        Do I explain that Westlake is along Pine, which is (historically, not quite as much presently) where Seattle’s highest-end retail establishments were congregated? And that the “crown” is supposed to be a universal symbol of conspicuous consumption? But that in this case, the crown looks a bit more like a child’s ballet tiara, and have you ever seen one of those, because that’s what you’ll need to look for in order to find your station?

        No. I’m not going to explain that. I’m going to tell them to get on the train and go 10 stops. (And to remember, for reference, that this is the fourth out of four downtown stops.)

        Assign the Tokyo subways pictograms just as “straightforward” as ours, and it won’t become any easier to find your way around on the map. It would be like finding a tiara in a haystack. Still much better to just know which direction to head, which line you need to transfer to, and about how much further to ride from the transfer point. Then you can start looking for the actual station.

      13. I assumed it was an ADA requirement like the destination displays in buses, which Chicago has had for at least ten years and then Metro got them.

        Atlanta used to have station codes like Oran described. When I was there the stations had codes like N1, N2 from the center. But the later maps seem to have renamed the lines and dropped the numbers.

  2. If they are going to have pictographs, they should pick ones that help people match the name of the station visually.

    – Northgate should be a “gate”
    – Angle Lake should be a square (that angled ruler) — that way people won’t keep calling Angel Lake.
    – Maybe an icon of President Roosevelt would help for Roosevelt?

    Capitol Hill, UW and U-District will be more difficult to pick icons for though I imagine.

    1. Will people from multiple cultures / backgrounds agree on what a ‘gate’ looks like? OR, BillG, ‘gade’, white pickety slats, Chinatown style…

      My first instinct was ‘shopping bag’, but clearly I have limited knowledge / use of the area.

      1. I am thinking of the name Northgate really. I always visualized the name as some sort of giant old medieval gate on the north end of the city. Of course in reality its been just a mall with some strip malls surrounded by single family homes for many decades.

        In the last decade though there have been more big box stores added and now they are building a lot more apartment buildings in the area. Its probably on its way to becoming as one of the denser populated parts of the city in the not too distant future.

        Its no U-District, but its not Roosevelt either.

      2. Right, I’m saying that ‘gate’ in the name ‘Northgate’ can be visualized in very different ways by people from different cultures. If you choose a pictoralization of ‘gate’ that doesn’t match with a culture’s concept of ‘gate,’ people of that culture will never map the ‘medieval gate’ icon to any entity. And then it’s like the opera glasses.

        Whereas, most people will know ‘shopping bag’ as an object within a few months of moving to the US.

        Maybe what really matters is that the icon is easy to recognize and unique: we can’t have multiple stations (hospital station…) with two vertical parallel lines and a shorter line connecting them, perpendicular to both.

      3. Maybe a hand handing over a bag of money would work? Like something you might see in a monopoly card?

        Or maybe eliminate the dollar sign on the side so it looks more like a trash bag?

    2. Some ideas:

      CH = a deluxe, chocolate, fry, and a traffic jam
      UW = a stadium, a college hat, or some reference to the 2008 football season
      UDist = beer can, plate of Thai food, or a bar stool

  3. …because station names are the most onerous wayfinding issues our transit system has…

  4. I think when we get to other lines, if we stick to pictograms, the icons are in a different colored and shaped frame. So Eastlink pictograms would say be in a green square, or the Ballard/West Seattle Line ( gods willing ) will be in a red diamond or something.

    Also while they are at it, lets change some of the existing ones! Columbia City- a dove? When the station has lion statues all over?!? Was making the icon a lion in the first place or the statues doves too much to ask for?

    1. How about the huge shovel artpiece at Columbia City station at Alaska and MLK intersection? Why not a shovel icon for my home station. Still super dumb. Like many people on here who have used lots of subway systems around the world – if I’m ever concerned about missing a stop I pay extra attention and maybe even ask another rider about where I’m trying to go.

  5. What an idiotic law. I wonder who put that in.

    Light rail systems (and metro systems) around the world seem to survive just fine without. Vancouver BC and Portland being two of the closest examples. Vancouver BC for example being much more diverse than Seattle.

    Why is this only required for light rail? Why not for Sounder or BRT?

    1. It was enacted in 2005 and passed both houses unanimously. It applies only to Sound Transit and the now-defunct monorail authority. It applies to both light rail and commuter rail, but does not require replacement of existing signs, which presumably is why there are not pictograms for Sounder.

  6. Mexico City has pictograms for its Metro system, so this is hardly a Washington innovation.

  7. I bet these things don’t work at all. If you cant read latin letters well enough to recognise the station names, you probably aren’t going to be helped much by the pictures

    1. Yeah. I can’t read Cyrillic or Chinese, but I was able to identify station names by shape.

      More useful would be to reqiure a standardized font.

Comments are closed.