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  Expert Forum for Knowledge Presentation
  Preparing for the Future of Knowledge Presentation


Roman Duszek

  The Warsaw Subway Signage System
© 2004 Roman Duszek

    Conference presentation Video

Keywords   Wayfinding, signage, subway, conceptual modeling, user centered design, wayfinding, orientation, navigation

This article introduces the mental process, analysis and evaluation applied by designers during their work on the Warsaw subway signage system project. Users’ points of view were predominant in the design procedure. Establishing the groups of potential information receivers and their needs allowed designers to define the scope of the system and areas it was to cover. Envisioning the street-train-street ‘path’ of users allowed designers to build the conceptual model that defined the design problems and solutions.

The cross-section design of the station and researched path allowed for planning information components in each subsystem and denting their locations. The analytical method was used both in the system design and in working out some of its elements. A user oriented ‘from the inside out’ method was adopted, in which lettering and symbol sizes were dictated by reading distance and spatial relationships of information to users.


Directions for getting from point A to point B may at !r st appear to be straight forward, but the process of determining (drawing) the path is comprised of many stages, each demanding a decision making process of its own. The first reaction to the problem was to immediately commit to paper a visual plan, bypassing important stages of the design process such as research, planning and analysis of usage. It soon became apparent that design must be approached as a multi-stepped process of planning, research and implementation that cannot be abbreviated.

An outline of the design problem must be formulated early, and a detailed record of existing circumstances and particular data must be collected. This preliminary stage involves brainstorming and creative thinking, and the nail result is an organized logical flow of information (material) in the form of a plan of action including the following five stages: 1. planning, 2. preliminary design, 3. nail design, 4. technical drawings, 5. supervision of fabrication and installation. In this presentation I will concentrate on the !r st two stages: planning and preliminary design and methodology.

Planning the System: Denting Users and Paths
    Our basic approach was to the question, “What will a user of the metro need to move from point A to point B, which are not connected by a straight line, but rather by a labyrinth?” Accepting the point of view of the user and following the user’s path was the plan by which we effectively took on this design project (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Navigating a Labyrinth

We varied potential users of the information, each of whom had different needs. Clearly, an information system for such users is not limited to the metro station, but goes well beyond–weaving itself into other similar information systems.

Table 1: Transportation users and their information requirements

Users Information requirements

Pedestrians from and to the streets

• How to get to the nearest metro station

Drivers of personal vehicles

• Locate nearest metro station

Users of other modes of public transportation

• Where to disembark to get to the metro station

Passengers of the metro

• Direction of travel
• Relationship of the metro line to the city
• Nearest metro station to destination
• Nearest metro station to current location
• Metro exit with access to a particular street
• Metro exit with access to other modes of

Coordinating Three Subsystems
    The next stage of the design process was following and deciphering of paths taken by passengers of the metro from the street, to a car of the metro and back to the street. Identifying such paths allowed us to address the information needs of such users. This analysis revealed that we needed three sub-systems of information: 1. Information regarding the function of the metro (lines, travel direction, stations, relation to city map), 2. Information encompassing the station (exit directions, street names, elevators, escalators, etc.), 3. Information concerning connections with other venues of transportation. Because these three sub-systems intermingle and often appear in the same areas, it became necessary to integrate them into a cohesive whole, while still differentiating their functions (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Information Subsystems
    Analysis of user paths and decision points yielded a taxonomy of informational needs according to user paths and location within the transportation system.
Table 2: Locations and types of Information display
Location & approach Location & approach Information
Entering station

• direction of travel
• specific stations on the line of travel
• relation of the metro line to the city map

Entering platform • direction of travel
• specific stations on the line of travel

Platform area information  

Outside Car information

• direction
• line number

Inside Car information • line diagram with station
• city map


• city information regarding specific street exits the
• immediate area of the station
• access to elevators, escalators, restrooms, shops
• access and use of other modes of transportation

    Differentiating the sub-systems was achieved by using a color code, while integration was achieved by using the same standard sizes, formats, elements, and un i!ed typography in the whole information system. Standardized type and layouts were used on information signage. These standards determined the formats of supporting elements. The modular design of supporting elements and information signage allowed for various combinations according to particular needs (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Integrated information system and kiosk
    Sectional schematics of the station and a walking path from the street to the metro car allowed us to plan the un i!ed elements of information in each of the sub-systems and for the specific areas in which they each appear. This was an essentially important stage in the entire process, because it allowed us to develop a graphic standards manual. All these planning phase endings resulted in the project structure that became a plan for further development of the system.
Designing the System ‘Inside Out’

We adopted the user-centered principle of designing ‘from the inside out’. The scale of the signage was determined by the distance of legibility for the user located in the area of the station. We selected an appropriate typeface, which was mod i!ed using graphic and photographic means to be thinner than the medium weight, but thicker than the thin weight. Through testing by Roman Tomaszewski* we found this weight to be the most legible from a variety of distances.

Station vicinity and analysis of pedestrian traffic in the area allowed the distribution of information graphics at decision-making points (Figure 4). An analysis of a stationary metro car’s windows (location and size) in the metro station, as well as the range of view from several positions in the car were the foundation for creating a model indicating the most beneficial placement of information graphics on the platform (Figure 5).

Figure 4: Sign locations  
Figure 5: Viewing fields  
    The need for spatial orientation is a crucial element of wayfinding. Maps that were included in the system addressed these needs (Figure 3). The grid system was adopted to maintain visual unity and necessary implication of the map. Three types of maps were designed: 1. metro line on city map, 2. metro station and its proximity and 3. plan of the station.
Implementation and testing  

The grueling phase of project realization and adaptation came after completing design work. Our endings, varied and accepted by project managers, including: 1. signage, 2. modular system and typographic standards, 3. scale and text arrangements, 4. placement of specific information signage in relation to its function and 5. number of signs necessary based on our studies.

We designed an “open system” a set of performance specifications and standards rather than a rote book of designs. This allowed us to adapt to the varying architecture of individual stations both planned and not yet on the drawing boards. Specifications included limits on visual obstructions to the metro signage system. The effectiveness of the design was demonstrated by the fact that no additional ad hoc elements were needed once the system was implemented.


Developing a complex information system is excellent training for any designer. Bestowed upon everyone who took part in this enlightening project were many rich and valuable experiences. The methodology used in the metro project can be used regularly in solving a variety of other design problems, and the knowledge and experience I gained through this project serves me in my pedagogical work as well.

The development of a signage system is the result of a team effort. Graphic design is intimately interrelated with industrial design and architecture (Figure 6). I collaborated closely with product designer, Richard Bojar**. That collaboration was not based on the distribution of work, but upon discussing the many varied elements of the system, and upon our mutual analysis of its usage. Richard continues work on the project, directing the application of the system as the Warsaw Metro expands. I should also mention the architects Jasna Strzalkowska and Jerzy Blancard from the Metro project with whom we regularly consulted during the design process, and who accepted our proposals as the system was developed. During the design and construction of the metro, they took into account the need for an information system and saw to its implementation.

Finally, wayfinding design was incorporated into the overall design of the Warsaw subway system from an early stage, not as an afterthought. Designers discussed information needs with architects as the architectural configurations of stations were being planned. This high level of cooperation and collaboration materially contributed to the success of the signage system and of the subway system.

Figure 6: Wayfinding signage
Figure 7: Sign System Summary

References   Ryszard Bojar (2002) Twenty Years of Realization. 2+3D Gra─ka plus Product, IV-2002 Nr 5, (pp 22-23). Fundacja Rzecz Piekna, WFP ASP Krakow, Poland.


* Roman TOMASZEWSKI 1921–1992, Polish publisher, printer, book and type designer. 1947–68 technical director and chief of production at the Polish Czytelnik publishing house. 1968–81 type design specialist at the Polish Printing Industry Union. 1966–78 editor of Litera, Poland’s only type-related magazine. 1965–75 type design lecturer at the Academies of Fine Arts in Warsaw and Lodz. In 1968 founded Osrodek Pism Drukarskich the Centre of Typefaces in Warsaw. Published more than 400 type-related articles. 1965–1992 member of Association Typographique Internationale (ATypI), where he served as member of the Board and country delegate for Poland.
** Ryszard BOJAR, product designer, co-author of the system, currently supervising system application.
*** Photos and illustrations by the author.

Roman Duszek
  Roman Duszek, born in Warsaw, Poland. He studied graphic design and graduated with MFA degree from the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw. While living in Europe he worked as a designer and creative art director in Poland and France on variety of visual identity projects, information systems and publication designs. He was an IBM Fellow at the Aspen Design Conference in 1983. In 1984 he moved to the United States, where he has been a Visiting Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Since 1988 he has been a professor of Graphic Design at the Southwest Missouri State University, teaching communication design, typography and interactive design courses.


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