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My favorite sign in New York City

It’s in a dismal location. It breaks all sorts of rules of good design. But this sign—it just works. Check it out. This is what you see when you exit the subway at 42nd Street and walk into the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

Port Authority Directional Sign

First, let’s list what’s wrong with this sign: It’s mad complicated. The colors are ugly. It has a huge amount of copy. It lacks a clear hierarchy of information. It tries to combine a map and a list in an unfamiliar way. It has 8 questions that correspond to points in space, and 2 that don’t, but all 10 are numbered. It’s in a building used daily by people from all over the world, yet it’s useless if you don’t read English. And above all, it’s in a bus station yet it has no information about buses.

Despite all this, it’s one of the most effective signs in the city.

It works because it takes a clear approach to explaining, simply, the ten most important things that New Yorkers standing in that very spot would want to know. When you have to enter this bewildering labyrinth for some reason other than a bus, this sign is your guide to whatever brought you there. Bowling? Bathrooms? Radio Shack? You’re covered. The sign-makers obviously did research and figured out the key problems they had to solve. They knew their audience.

I also love question 8:

Where is the subway?
Behind you.

Attitude! You don’t find that every day on a sign.

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Signage

One comment

  1. Amanda says:

    I love that going to the bowling alley is ranked above the bathroom. Wondering how they picked that order

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