Better signage also key to a good public transport network

The installation of signs at times appears as an afterthought, going by their design and placement in many places. In the case of some labyrinthine malls, critics might even say there was little thought involved. VivoCity, billed as "Singapore's largest" mall, was nigh impossible to navigate several years ago and had to engage an Australian agency to improve its signs. Yet getting around remains a challenge for newcomers. A similar situation when using public transport would be intolerable, especially as the rail network grows and interchange stations multiply.

A good rail system would be one that makes it as much of a snap to find one's way around as to travel from one point to another. Working towards this goal, the Land Transport Authority is calling for specialists to study the existing set-up as "way-finding signs have always been a complaint among commuters". Other transit systems have paid more attention to signage by using colour codes and bold sizes. There's more to it, of course, than just replacing bulbs for signs with LED or LCD signs, or replacing text signs with symbols.

Knowledge of the spatial dynamics of crowds on the move in and around stations can help in the overall design of clearly signposted paths, access and exit points, gates and evacuation routes. Designing signage should be an integral part of this process. For example, when people are dodging one another at a junction, static overhead signs would be less effective than colour-coded paving or corridor walls. The critical issue is how people can use all visual information at key spots for way-finding. That would mean paying attention to the background clutter as well. For example, making directional signs compete with shop signs and advertisements is counter-productive. A broader view of navigation is needed that goes beyond just revamped signs, however nice they might look on paper.