More on MTR signage

Inconsistent directional signage for lines and platforms at Central Station

I wrote about the use of colours to establish line identities in the MTR system last time. This example shows how inconsistent directional signs can be even for one station, in this case Central. Central Station is connected to Hong Kong Station by a pedestrian tunnel, which is a paid area. So effectively the two stations form one large station with four lines: Tsuen Wan, Island, Tung Chung and also the Airport Express. The example here shows two different ways for destination naming: by line (Tsuen Wan Line, Tung Chung Line and Disneyland Resort Line) and by terminus or stop (Sheung Wan, Airport and Asia-World Expo). I don’t know if passengers would wonder why the Tsuen Wan line shows two platforms, while Sheung Wan only shows one, and no platforms are shown at all in the other two signs.

The weak line identity and indication in the current signage system is symptomatic of a lack of foresight at the early planning stage in the late 70s, when there were only two lines and therefore line identities were not particularly important. I discussed the ambiguity of using the coloured circles to indicate platforms. The circles themselves are not enough of an identification for the lines. For example, Sheung Wan in itself does not mean much if they don’t know which line it is on, especially for foreigners when Chinese names can be difficult to remember. A little redundancy would go a long way: show the name of the line, the line number (if used), the colour, as well as the termini would make sure that there is no ambiguity. Though in a multilingual context (Chinese, English as well as graphic symbols) space is often an issue. The problem here, I speculate, stem from the need to fit the message and graphics in the predetermined lightboxes of fixed sizes (the type is artificially condensed for the Tung Chung Line / Disneyland Resort Line sign). The blue train pictogram is supposed to show that it is a different kind of train: the Airport Express, though this is not likely to be understood by the uninitiated.

Exit labelling was an innovation implemented in the 1990s which was a very good idea and heavily used by locals and visitors. However, when there is a large number of exits in a large station, things can become a bit confusing. When there is limited space in a lightbox, sometimes a dash is used to indicate an alphabetic range. While this is acceptable for numeric ranges (for example 5–10), it could be difficult for an alphabet-based system. For passengers not versed in the latin alphabet, it is difficult to recall what letters are between E and H. There are also sub-exits in the system, indicated by smaller numbers. Putting these sub-exists as a numeric range further complicates things.

MTR exit directional sign

MTR exit directional sign. Using a dash to indicate an alphabetical range can be misleading.

Where space is ample, the all individual exits are shown, in alphabetical order. But why are some of the letter skipped?

MTR exit directional signs

A long list of exits

A long list of exits

More to come on this topic . . .

Categories bilingualism, information design, signage, wayfinding
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