Fault found with London rail signs

Railway station signage is impairing customer travel and designers need to consider how signs sit within the environment, claims a recently published report by the London Transport Users committee.

Written by the Information Design Unit of Enterprise IG, and focusing on transport within London, the report claims that name signage, particularly within the rail network, fails to provide adequate information to passengers.

‘Many people are aware of how difficult it is to work out where you are while on a train. We feel that the application of good design could mitigate this problem,’ explains John Cartledge, deputy director of the London Transport Users Committee.

The critical audit claims there are ‘no industry standard[s] for such signing’ and finds variance in design styles between rail companies. Furthermore, the report stresses that regulatory bodies, including the Health and Safety Executive, the Rail Safety & Standards Board and the Strategic Rail Authority, do not stipulate recommendations about the positioning and spacing of name signs.

Enterprise IG wayfinding design director Colette Jeffrey says the report highlights a need to establish clearer name signage among rail network operators, as well as the necessity to increase the frequency of name signs to ensure that people are aware of their whereabouts while travelling.

‘We compared the rail network to the London Underground. The positioning of signs on the Underground was very good, and it used banners to tell users where they were. The Rail Network [made] little use of this,’ she says.

Although most station signs use a white base, the report highlights a lack of consideration for colour on name signs created for the rail environment. External factors, namely change in weather, time of day and the background on which signs are offset often clash, rendering name signs illegible.

‘We would like to see good practice in terms of colour contrast. There is little alignment between the colours of signs and the background. Because of this they become very difficult to read,’ says Cartledge. ‘Brand designers need to consider how signs sit within the environment,’ adds Jeffrey.

The report also recommends the use of materials that prevent vandalism, including screen-printed text, lettering coated with graffiti-resistant paint and matt-finished name signs that reduce glare. In addition, the LTUC report stresses that font and name signs should not be reduced. It advises that font size should never be less than 150mm in height.

Although previous reports hint at a need for better consideration of name signage, much of the analysis in this area remains superficial. Transport for London and the Strategic Rail Authority both express a drive to modernise train signs. TFL produced ‘Standards for London Metro’ and the SRA published ‘Modern facilities at stations’. However, both publications failed to address the specific needs of name signs, the report says.

‘Much of the existing research touches on this issue on a superficial level,’ Cartledge says. The report has been distributed among rail companies operating within the London region. Cartledge believes the report will initiate dialogue about this issue and will be a catalyst to ‘get railways thinking about the importance of name signs’.

The right direction

• The Railway Safety Principles and Guidance – part 2, section B, Guidance on stations (Health & Safety Executive), Section 34b suggests signs should be ‘conspicuously shown at intervals along the platform’.

• Joint Mobility Unit and Sign Design Society published the Sign Design Guide, which offers recommendations about signage, but the report does not make any overt reference to external name signs.

• The Signs Manual, published by London Underground, contains detailed guidance for station wayfinding systems, both above and below ground.

• Section B4.2 of the Train and Station Services for Disabled People (SRA Code of practice) recommends that signs ‘are designed around the needs of people with low vision and people who have learning difficulties’ because this will ‘meet the needs of a broad range of customers’.

• Network SouthEast’s Design Guide offers drawn signs that may meet the specific needs of individual stations.

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