I Saw the Sign (NY Edition)

I am a lifelong, tried and true New Yorker and every day subway rider. Route changes seem to happen almost daily, causing confusion and furrowed brows. I would love to make riders’ experience more seamless and enjoyable. To this end, I often find myself analyzing how I could reconfigure mass transit signs and maps to make them more understandable. Here is an example of my thought process:

Current MTA sign (left) vs proposed new design (right).

Current MTA sign (left) vs proposed new design (right). Detailed look below.

My Approach:

1. Make it clear which lines are affected and when service changes will occur

I didn’t make many changes here, since the MTA already does a good job prioritizing this information. There were areas that needed improvement, so I cleaned the design by removing the “Fix & Fortify” logo, as it is not a high priority piece of information. I also added a warning icon to the “Planned Service Changes” banner and made it span across the full width of the page. There was also an opportunity to optimize dates and times of changes, so I switched the days of the week with the times, and consolidated the four date ranges into one long date range.

2. Include a map that displays the affected area (especially helpful for non-English readers)

I have seen maps used in these types of signs before, but they are often confusing. To combat this, I treated relevant information, including rerouted lines and travel alternatives, with a colored style that was overlaid on top of a less relevant, washed-out, greyscale map. The most important information, such as A/C trains being “rerouted via the F”, are clearly called out and highlighted to grab the reader’s attention. A “NO SERVICE” callout was also added to reinforce the greyed-out A/C line between W 4th St and Jay St Metrotech stations. Secondary information, such as “Trains run local..”, are also called out, but in a less obvious way.

3. Make travel alternatives more readable

I organized travel alternatives into a table so that users can scan down an alphabetically ordered column of affected stations to quickly find a travel alternative. Station icons were changed from black to color, and station names are bolded for better readability. The decision to only give relevant stations a bolder style also helps with the context switching between table and map. I also included a wheelchair icon next to any affected stations that were “ADA Accessible Locations,” so people with disabilities could be alerted.


This is by no means a definitive solution to the MTA’s service change signs. For one, the design has not been tested for scalability (i.e. How would the table look if 20 stations are affected?). The sign might require a number of design templates to be effective in all scenarios. Other considerations, like alternative transportation involving bus routes, may not have been needed for the redesign of this particular sign, but further examination into how they could be incorporated into other signs would be required. The design could also benefit from user testing. Some people may find that the cropped map does not meet their needs or that callouts are blocking parts of the map they want to see.

Chris Calabrese

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