Lousy subway maps have become a cause célèbre in the last month. It’s so easy to get upset about them. Sort of like how easy it is to get upset about individual homeless people rather than a fundamental problem like poverty. TTC is certainly impoverished when it comes to design, which, I again insist, is viewed as too girly and faggy for rough, tough mechanical engineers and bus drivers.

I submitted the following to last week’s Commission meeting, where it was summarily ignored. The more evidence of their own failings you show these people, the angrier they get.

In the last week, new local maps at subway stations have received unremitting bad press. TTC “announced,” via private E-mails to Steve Munro and Spacing Wire, that the new maps would be replaced.

You already had a cartographer on staff – didn’t you?

As late as 2004, TTC had its own cartographer, Graeme Parry. Yet in the Toronto Star (2009.09.22), Adam Giambrone claims “there is no one who oversees map creation.”

That article, incidentally, essentially plagiarized Steve Munro’s blog post.

You have no designers on staff…

TTC’s culture of tacky has prevented the Commission from hiring actual graphic designers – and, apparently, cartographers. Few, if any, designers, and certainly no registered graphic designers, would tolerate an all-Windows workplace where every decision is furiously disputed by engineers, and former bus drivers promoted up the ladder, who have a sense of entitlement.

…yet you do everything in-house

You have no design staff, but lots of architects and draftsmen. They know how to execute a few kinds of drawings. They think their cherished software packages, like CorelDraw, are suited to every task. They may know how to drive a car, but they couldn’t build one; these architects and draftsmen can produce a drawing, but that doesn’t make them graphic designers.

Literacy is not a job requirement

What are dismissed as “typos” in the failed maps are actually evidence of poor reading and writing skills. People see right through their own errors, but the fact that nobody has copy-editing or writing qualifications inside TTC means nobody proofs each other’s work – or if they do, they make the same mistakes.

Errors are not the only issue.
Even the font is wrong

TTC prides itself on using fake fonts that came free with its cherished CorelDraw. Subway maps cannot even manage to use fake Helvetica, TTC’s “standard”; instead they use that reviled Microsoft clone of Helvetica, Arial. Neither font works well for maps due to confusable characters, among other reasons.

You’ll use this as evidence that things are improving

Whenever any complaint is levelled against TTC surface operations, the claimed reason for the problem is always, without exception, “traffic congestion.” In the same vein, years of concrete evidence that TTC’s entire practice of signage is seriously broken have been met with the insistence that the actual problem is “handmade signs.” That problem was said to be remedied last year, which does not explain the continued use of handwritten signs. (I see them every week.)

Subway maps will now take on the role handwritten signs used to have: TTC will pretend the entire problem of signage was just a problem of bad maps that has been rectified by a promise to fix them.

Adam Giambrone has no qualifications to vet a map

In the Star article, Adam Giambrone states “I’ll see the maps before they go up.” As he is not a qualified writer, editor, or graphic designer and also not a qualified cartographer, all this will mean is that new error-strewn maps will come with the seal of approval of the TTC chair. This is at least consistent with Chair Giambrone’s explicit program of destroying TTC heritage and defending his staff to the utmost.

Whenever outsiders prove something’s wrong, TTC angrily insists it knows best. I suspect this is the core problem. It won’t be fixed in our lifetimes.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2009.10.02 12:29. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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