The making of the Moscow Metro passageway navigation

Overview• Process


The project is tied to the renovation of passageways, overall there are 96 stations. There isn’t much time, the first mock-ups should be done in a couple of weeks, but first we need to propose changes to the concept.

The concept is an album that was created before us. The album covers absolutely all signs, while we need only the part about the passageways.

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Apart from the album, there are no documents at the start of the project. But there are stations in the city where pilot elements have already been implemented. Going to see them first hand.

Evaluating the new system. Overall, we like it, though have some suggestions for the details. The most notable ones are to introduce the word Exit, increase typeface size, reorganize the space on the signs to make them less susceptible to vandalism, layout of some of the elements does not take into account peripheral areas of the city, density of some elements needs to be increased.

Starting by trying to make changes to the layout of the most questionable signs: increasing the typeface size, adding exits and testing it all in the Metro.

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Comparing different variants, trying navigation with no arrows, measuring the readability distance, making sure the word Exit is a worthy addition.

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It is indeed better with the word, as well as with the arrows. Legibility has also improved. Inserting the word Exit into other signs, working on layout and putting together a presentation with our suggestions.

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Starting to typeset signs for the stations. Sign placement has already been decided, we only need to provide the contents of the signs and their mock-ups. Simultaneously the client’s team explains their understanding of sign design while we explain all the decisions we made in the presentation. Making changes and sending the designs for the first stations.

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One station is done. Writing down all bugs in design, looking at the other ten stations and coming to a conclusion that we went too far with the changes.

While trying to make the typeface larger, we lost on the aesthetics.

Organizing work

Time is short, the typesetting process moves slowly, we need to work faster, smarter and in a more conveyor-like fashion. Making sure the designers aren’t involved in typesetting but instead are solving problems without being distracted by changes.

The typesetter shouldn’t decide what the contents of the signs should be, so we should give that knowledge to other people.

Moving the maps and indexes out into a separate flow. The typesetter connects everything together. The editor checks everything beforehand.

The speed of work has increased, but the team has also grown, there are now problems with synchronization, which means we need templates, checks and internal guidelines.

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Clarifying the tasks

We need a unified approach to the content of the signs based on clear criteria, not the typesetter’s knowledge of the city.

There isn’t enough space on the signs, we need to change the grid, write less but more succinctly, abbreviate words based on rules which we yet need to develop.

We also haven’t covered public transport yet.

We don’t know how to typeset signs for entrances to several stations (for example, one entrance can lead to both Kurskaya and Chkalovskaya or to two Kurskaya stations on different Metro lines).

There is also a problem with map titles for shared entrances. We are also screwing up the solution sequence: structures that are similar in essence are being typeset differently.

Information on signs

It’s probably the most important part of the navigation system.

Going to the pilot stations and finding more problems. For example at Tekstilschiki exits are named after streets which they don’t immediately lead to, there is no information about some of the exits at the beginning of the passageway. All of this is just wrong.

Deriving assumptions that will become the basis of our work:

Each entrance serves a separate sector of the adjacent territory and each sector is important. We need to name each exit according to the street to which it leads directly. In those cases where all exits lead to the same street, we need to provide additional information that will allow to tell them apart.

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Creating layouts for several stations based on these principles, adding building numbers as we go (to discern two sides of the same street) as well as further away streets with buildings located on them that may be near.

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Overall, two polar opinions about choosing information for the signs are formed in the team: one is that streets are more important, the other is that landmarks should be the priority.

To make sure we’re not wasting our time arguing, deciding to hold a test in the Metro. Going to Mitino station to try out two navigation designs: one with the priority given to streets and the other where shopping centers dominate.

The first:

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The second:

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Everything looks OK but when the signs have nothing but shopping centers on them, pedestrians may think there’s a market over their heads. This won’t work.

Also testing exit names: we need them to be directly associated with what pedestrians will see once they follow them. It works, the association is there. Which means we should always start with the street. For example, exit 6 at Mitino station: Mitniskaya Street used to be the main reference point, although the exit is parallel to Dubravnaya Street.

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But what should we do with really important shopping centers, like Metropolis and Evropeisky?

Nothing. We need to create rules that will promote these landmarks to the top. Creating a grading table and internal guidelines on choosing landmarks. An important city object: add one point; can be seen from the exit: add another; an important local street: another point, etc.

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Finally, clear rules allow us to transfer all the knowledge to someone else.

Sign design

Going back to the old layout while keeping all the interesting stuff we created for the new one: the Exit word, building numbers, more landmarks, a slightly larger typeface, abbreviation rules.

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Deciding not to add any information to signs pointing to Metro stations.

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Working on the grouping of pictograms.

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Now for suburban trains. The Moscow Metro has its M, but suburban trains don’t have such a recognizable symbol. Trying to use the Russian Railways style and introduce a hint of railways to make it clear without resorting to words. Choosing a red stripe.

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Line stripes work poorly in entrances that lead to multiple stations. Trying to break down the stripes, combine them, break the layout into two levels, not use the light box and even try 3D letters.

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The same problem with the map.

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Putting everything together into a presentation, the client chooses the second design that includes improving Kitay-Gorod.

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All the work on changing the signs is carried out in this change matrix which allows to test all “genius” ideas on all signs at the same time.

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Maps are a separate part of the project. For them we also need a clear understanding of the design tasks and a production process.

The task: to develop rules within the existing style, to understand how to show complex interchanges, tunnels and overground transfers, how to show ground transport and bicycle paths, to determine how to place shopping center pictograms, draw cemeteries and the monorail and align text relative to pictograms and 3D buildings.

Getting the approval for the color scheme and marrying the maps with the graphic language of the rest of the system.

Collecting everything in the map guide.

Technical limitations do not allow us to export maps from GIS systems in sufficient quality. For example, exporting breaks all Bezier curves, all text blocks become one-line, patterns get broken down into millions of objects and artifacts start to appear. All of this has to be manually fixed by designers which goes against the concept of conveyor work.

Solution: we learn to write scripts, from simple ones that combine text fields to more complex ones that can set correct graphic styles for map elements, clear files from garbage, change the layer order, correctly place building numbers, create the proper look of public transport stops and Metro stations, sort route numbers, prepare text, automatically align it by the nearest icon and generate indexes based on an Excel spreadsheet.

Templates and typesetting automation

In all the fuss over the details of design, the layout process never stops. Templates are created, first, simple ones to make sure we don’t have to calculate margins each time, then more and more smarter: frames with autosize, displacement of anchored objects and automated understanding of the spread, nested styles and a separate typeface for frequently used icons, line numbers and logos.

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Finally, we can use Excel to fill all these wonderful templates.

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Gradually, mock-ups for all 96 stations are created.

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