See that sign? It’s wrong.

The 59th Street–Columbus Circle station has been undergoing renovation for years, and for the most part it seems to be going well. There is, however, something that has been bugging me for a while: the signage. As work on the station has progressed, the contractor (Skanska, I believe) has been installing signage which may appear superficially to comply with the Graphics Standards Manual or the current MTA Sign Manual but which are actually quite broken. Not in a wayfinding sense, but rather in a typographic sense.

There’s an important point to make here—a lot of people would look at this and say “So the font’s wrong? What’s wrong with that?” But there really is something wrong with that; it’s symptomatic of a lack of coordination and a lack of concern which often leads to more badly broken signs which actually hamper navigation.

Bad signage at the 59th Street–Columbus Circle station

Here’s a good example of the trouble at Columbus Circle; the sign on top doesn’t look bad, but the sign at the bottom is in an awful font that I don’t recognize (it looks sort of like Chicago, the old Mac system font).

Bad signage at the 59th Street–Columbus Circle station, complete with improperly-redrawn MTA logo

This sign is more clearly wrong (apologies for the bad photo); the sign font and the MTA logo are both wrong. The logo is, at best, a caricature of the MTA logo; it looks like the sort of thing you could make with a copy of Microsoft Word, using WordArt. Inside the station, there are more signs like these; again, they look like someone was given a copy of Photoshop and pictures of a few subway signs to imitate. Bad fonts and improper layout might not seem like serious problems, but they ultimately affect the usability of a signage system—when you pick a random font out of the menu, do you know how well it performs in signage applications? Can you point to test data on readability, not just in ideal conditions, but also with visually impaired users? I didn’t think so. And when most subway riders struggle with the MTA’s signs as it is, do they really need to be confronted with something that was hastily thrown together and breaks with convention? I didn’t think so.

The Transit Authority needs to fix these signs, but more importantly the Transit Authority needs to fix the (broken) process which allowed these signs to be put up in the first place. There’s a standard, and it should be adhered to.