It is rare to find a graphic designer who truly understands transit from both the transit agency's point of view and that of the transit customer and potential customer. My understanding of a transit agency's needs – from the political to the operational – gives me a unique edge in transit-related graphic design. As importantly, a clear understanding of the customers' needs, challenges, and perceptions about transit separate me from other graphic designers.

Some thoughts on Transit Information Graphics

Is your transit information attracting
new riders or driving them away?

Using transit can be intimidating to a potential rider. When they look at your transit information, you have mere seconds to convince them that they can figure it out before they give up and find another alternative.

You work hard to provide the best possible transit service, and your information should be just as good. Clear,
easy-to-understand information can make the difference between a potential rider and a fare-paying customer.

Empathy

As with any kind of information design, designing transit information requires empathy.

Empathy is defined as "the ability to understand and share the feelings of another." This ability is critically important in transit information design, much as it is in the field of teaching. We've probably all experienced briliant people who were terrible teachers. This shortfall is usually the result of a lack of empathy. The teacher understands what he or she is teaching so well that they cannot place themselves in the shoes of the student who lacks that level of understanding. Without being able to empathize with the student and clearly understand where the student is coming from, nobody can be an effective teacher, no matter how smart they are or how well they know the subject they're teaching.

Designing transit information graphics is much the same as teaching. The designer's task is to teach the potential transit customer how to use a complex transit system. In order to design information that is clear and easy to understand, the designer must be able to place themselves in the shoes of the person using the information. The designer must be able to look at the information with fresh eyes, as if they know nothing about how the transit system works. This is difficult to do, and one of the main reasons that most transit information is so confusing – much of it has been designed by people who are so deeply engrained in the world of their own transit system, that the information seems obvious to them, no matter how convoluted or esoteric it is.

Selecting a designer

Is it necessary for you to find a designer with a lot of experience designing transit graphics? Not necessarily, but it certainly wouldn't hurt. More important, in my opinion, is finding a designer with experience designing any kind of complex information, and whose work demonstrates an ability to distill complex information down to a simple and easy to understand format. And of course, someone who demonstrates empathy and good communication skills.