Taipei MRT Wayfinding

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When I was in Grad. school I was sent to examine the inconsistencies in the MRT sign-age system. This is part of the initial presentation.

The ability of computers and contemporary production methods to generate type at any size on virtually any substrate tends to blind us to the subtle but important differences between lettering and type and to the needs of permanent or semi–permanent display in an environmental context as distinct from the needs of print on paper or screen.

It is this essential awareness of the context and the methods of production of a given piece of lettering which must be exploited. The degree to which this is exploited varies: at one extreme may be a concern for informative aspects/utility while at the other is expression.

Taipei station MRT must utilize these common characteristics:

  • Expressive artful qualities: a visual communication that represents the MRT, it’s intended ideals and message, and the city of Taipei itself.
  • Utility / source of information:  the sign “Taipei Main Station” should be considered apart of much broader signage and way finding system (2 distinct entities). The lettering itself must work within the context it is displayed. Even at Taipei station there are a number of different contexts.

People who find themselves in unfamiliar environments need to know where they actually are in the complex, the layout of the complex, and the location of their destination in order to formulate their action plans. En route to their chosen destinations, people are helped or hindered prior to their visit, by the building’s architecture and signage.

Faulty sign design can cause navigation problems in unfamiliar environments. Some signs lack "conspicuity," or visibility, because lettering lacks legibility when viewed from a distance. Others contain inaccurate, ambiguous or unfamiliar messages; many are obscured by obstructions or contain reflective surfaces, which hinder comprehension. Consequently, many people don’t read signs–often it’s easier to ask for directions.

Because wayfinding problems aren’t confined to signs alone, they typically can’t be solved by adding more signs. Instead, such problems can be unraveled by designing an environment that identifies logical traffic patterns that enable people to move easily from one spot to another without confusion. Signs cannot be a panacea for poor architecture and illogical space planning. Which is quite evident in most MRT stations.

One of a number of possible solutions

High degree of order seems to be a key factor. Order refers to the degree and kind of lawfulness governing the relations among parts of the representation. In Arnheim’s opinion ‘Order tends to reduce complexity and requires elimination of details that do not fit the principles determining the order'(1966).

Order denotes a relative extent of generality:

Symbols usually have to denote and represent or stand for a whole class of objects/artifacts. This is a function that representations in verbal language undertake effortlessly by categorising and standing for a particular group. Further, by assigning a certain level of visual order in terms of simplified forms and details, the visual representation tries to denote objects with a certain degree of generality.

Order strengthens a given representation:

For a representation used in a signage to be visible from a distance. It is essential for it to have the strength to stand out from its surroundings and be recognised for its representation of the given message area. A strong figure against the background, a certain amount of thickness for the lines and the use of symmetry are factors that can lead to this visual potential.

Order smoothens the definition of the representation:

Representations that are viewed from a distance have the tendency to smoothen out perceptually. Sharp details, textural details, angular shapes and such details tend to become less prominent. It is always preferable to pre-smoothen such details so as to avoid distortion of information when viewed from a distance.

Order brings about uniformity:

By following the same rules of imparting visual order it is possible to bring about uniformity in the visual features, both within and across the symbols. Such a group of representations could logically be identified as belonging to the same family.

Order leads to learning:

Order tends to reduce complexity and arranges the various elements of a composition in an organised manner. This makes for easier comprehension, recognition and remembrance, leading to an overall enhancement in the quality of retrieval and processing of information.