A graphic artist tackles the New York City subway: Part II


 Randall John Gregory II (or Randy, for short) is not only a graduate student at the School of Visual Arts, but he is also an innovative thinker and designer for the masses. Recently, we think Randy has been putting his design skills to good use in the realm of mass transit. He has put together not just one or two designs, but 99 different proposals to improve the New York City subway system. Most of his proposals are low-cost and easy to implement, and can help the MTA go a long way in improving the safety and comfort of their riders. 

Randy is a designer specializing in brand development, front end web development/design, layout, print design, experimental design, user experience, and consultation. His work related to Subway Improvements has been published in New York Magazine and on several other blogs including his own 100 improvements to the New York subway.

We would like to thank Randy for sharing his work with our readers and allowing us to present it to you in a slightly different order than he has it on his blog site.

Visit www.randygregorydesign.com to see his other work. 

Part I was published last week this Part II is the final piece of this post.


7.Paths for the blind

7 Blind path

The guidelines have a secondary purpose. Being made out of metal, and including a slight lip, they can serve a function as a path for the blind. Currently, blind users use their white canes in order to find a path between the yellow “rumble strip” and the columns that are present in the station. This still allows for a high error rate. Using the guidelines I presented yesterday, they can serve as an easy to use pathway to the elevator. A blind user can tap their cane in order to hear the metallic noise (I assume there would be a hollowness to the metal, to give it a unique echo), or they can feel for the lip. This keeps users away from the yellow rumble area, which while useful, is extremely dangerous, being about two feet from the edge.

4. Handicapped Areas

4 handicapped areas

Continuing the subject of handicap usability errors in the station, the areas surrounding the “boarding area” signs aren’t unique at all. Also, as previously mentioned, the signs for the “boarding area” are placed inconsistently, some higher than others. So why not highlight the suggested area? This can also help point out the safest place on the platform for a handicapped individual to get on the train, a problem I will attempt to tackle tomorrow.

Something else to note about this area is that the placement of the “boarding area” isn’t the best, due to the proximity of an escalator, and any New Yorker knows that escalators can be a nightmare.

I’d like this suggestion to spur further discussion about the placement of the boarding area.


Following are Randy’s suggestions on how to improve signage in the New York City Subway:

58. Systems Diagrams on Platforms


Inspired by the subways in Barcelona, there should be a revised system in how the subway diagram is shown. Make it big, make it obvious. This way, travelers know where they’re going.

29. Electronic Notice Boards


Currently, when construction happens on the lines, hundreds of posters are printed and taped up in the stations. These posters are generally treated terribly, many of them are ripped or stolen, not to mention the wasted production costs & employee time spent taping them up.

The development of an electronic system, powered by boards such as these can alleviate the problem. This solves the printing problem, which in turn solves an issue of waste, in both garbage & employee pay. I will be further exploring the language & design of the actual notices in the near future, stay tuned… 

30. Info Panels


 It’d be great to have panels streaming live data about the system and the city. Seeing the weather outside can help me prepare accordingly, seeing a live feed of the tunnels will let me know if I’ll deal with any delays, and some live entertainment can either show off local television, or display info about local businesses to help break the monotony of the trip. 

20. Attraction Guides

20 attraction Guides

In the past 8 months, I’ve had more than a few times where a fellow traveler has asked me where a particular building or feature of the city is in relation to where we are in the subway.

Why aren’t there guides for that? Maybe just a simple system of lines in parts of the station can show where buildings are like the NYC Public Library ( the last rider I encountered was looking for the specific one from GhostBusters ), and what lines the user would have to take in order to get there.

81. Digital Speaker Display

81 digital speakers

As we approach a time where we’re all connected to our iDevices, we may miss out on important information. Perhaps moving the digital display monitors next to the speakers, along with a computerized system for messages would help solve communication issues.

 17. Cardinal Directions

17 Cardinal Directions

Wouldn’t it be great to step out of a train, look slightly down, and see what direction you’re in? Stations can be very disorienting, especially after a long trip.   Simple cardinal directions alleviate this problem.

77. Bus Schedules

77 Bus Schedules Recently, I’ve learned that the Bus service in NYC is excellent, despite the poor traffic, it’s generally consistent. Being a subway-only kind of person, I know little to nothing about the buses, and the information available at the subway stations aren’t very friendly in their language. If the system was redesigned for a focus on the most important information (times, bus numbers, routes), and then strategically placed in the station, riders might be more interested in using the bus system. 

 82. Histories of the Subway


82 Histories of the subway

The subway has an incredible history. Being one of the biggest engineering marvels in the country, it’d be nice to learn about the histories of the stations while waiting for a train. Construction methods, cooling systems, the manpower involved…there is a deep & rich history here, and it deserves to be spread throughout the system.

 36. Neighborhood Guides

36 Neighborhood guides

What kind of things are in a neighborhood? Where are they? Interactive kiosks in tourist heavy areas could answer these questions, and display helpful videos about important New York landmarks, like the World Trade Center. Users could use the interactive map to find restaurants & other local businesses. A camera attached to each kiosk helps dissuade vandalism.


60. Error Messages


When you swipe a metrocard, a green message appears on the lcd screen, and a beep goes off. Every time. Even if you miss-swipe, your card is out of money/time. It’d be better if a different light showed, or if a different sound played.

80. Metrocard Bonus

80 Metrocard Bonus

Personally, I use an unlimited card, due to the amount of times I use the subway. However, not everyone follows my lead, and still put money on their cards. As a result, the MTA offers a bonus to those riders, though they don’t actually let you know how much of a bonus you get. There are web apps that tell you this bonus, but wouldn’t it be nice if there was a bonus calculator that told you exactly how much of a bonus you get depending on how much money you have + how much you intend to add? Also, 20 days left!

65. Metro Card Swiping

65 Better swipping

Last semester, a professor who specializes in many things, one of them being biomechanics, asked us how we swipe our metro card. Many of my classmates talked about swiping really fast or really slow, backwards, rubbing the card against their sleeve/pants leg, et cetera…we were all wrong.

When a card is swiped, we tend to hold the card in a disadvantageous way, bending it and breaking the magnetic connection between the card & the reader, resulting in an error. If the turnstiles could convey a method to keep the card pressed against the reader, there’d be less miss-swipes. The use of colors to convey where to hold the card against while swiping would be one solution of many.

68. Metro Card on Platforms

68 Matrocard Machines on platforms

Metro card machines should also be placed on Platforms inside the turnstiles. You swipe your metro card, and you realize that after swiping, you have a few cents left…what if you could refill it immediately, while waiting for the train?

86. Exit/Enter only turnstiles


Currently, when commuters enter or exit the turnstiles, it’s generally a mad rush. In the middle of rush hour, it’s an even bigger pain. Using rider data, we could figure out when these “rushes” happen, and by utilizing LEDs and locking turnstiles, we could make exiting riders go through one lane, versus 3. This could also work in reverse…if more riders exit then enter, depending on data, the lighting could be different, and the turnstile could be locked the other way.

Thanks to William Wong for the inspiration.

16. RFID Card Reader

16 RFID Card Reader

The swiping system is archaic & problematic. The cards aren’t designed properly for swiping, as oftentimes, the magnetic strip doesn’t maintain contact with the reader.

Sometimes, the cards de-magnetize, causing a greater headache. And the waste generated by empty cards is disgusting.

Switching to an RFID system like the CTA in Chicago would help in some of this issues. Perhaps a system where an RFID card (at a slightly higher price), could deliver peace of mind, with no more swiping. The user would get a sturdier card, that they would care more about, and be less inclined to throw them on the ground.

Lastly, for rollout purposes, keep the existing swiping system for the tourists, but eventually move to an all RFID system.

69. Better “Don’t Enter” Signifiers


Today, I noticed the most interesting thing. Despite the fact that 7 trains heading to the east were not running, there was still people on the platform, waiting for trains that would never come.

Unfortunately, the MTA employees have to use a system of tape when a line is shut down, and they can’t always get to putting the tape up, which causes lost fares, frustration, and a sense of being let down by unhappy customers.

If there was somehow an automatic system that could be activated whenever a station needed to be shut down, this could be avoided.

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