– Mark E. Smith

Three years too late, TTC is hiring what it calls a “Design Architect – Wayfinding and Signage.” The reason why this job is a failure is built into the title – at impressive levels of redundancy.

  1. Wayfinding is a process of the mind. You cannot “architect” an experience of wayfinding. It is not a jazzy synonym for “signage.” It is not a really special and advanced form of signage. Wayfinding is an event, experienced over time, in the distinctive psychology of every user of the system.

  2. The term “design architect” is not tautological or oxymoronic; it has specific meaning in the industry (compare “structural architect”). But TTC’s signage problem is centrally due to its architects, who are not designers, a fact even more infuriating given that Ontario is the only place with a government-mandated registry of graphic designers. Architects caused the signage problem at the TTC and adding another architect won’t fix it.

  3. An architect uses antitypographic computer software (AutoCAD, CorelDraw) on an antitypographic platform (Windows) and handwrites in BLOCK CAPITALS. (UPDATE: A subsequent tender [PDF] lists TTC’s software as Solidworks, Bentley Microstation, whatever that is, and AutoCAD 2010.) These facts alone make it inconceivable for an architect to design adequate signage.

    If that seems too broad, I’ll be more specific. TTC’s architects are provably unable to understand why fake Helvetica is unsuitable for signage even after having it explained to them in writing and in person, and can’t spell or proofread their own work. (Architects aren’t word people. Few designers are, either, but at least they know when to use outside copy-editing.)

  4. One’s task as TTC “design architect” for signage will be to implement a failed signage system that is a second-rate copy of Massimo Vignelli’s. I know already TTC brooks no dissent on this topic.

Signage has not improved measurably since I made it an issue. I’ve been blaming TTC’s architects for it, but I can say that Ian Trites is a conscientious, informed, unsung TTC architect who is trying to maintain the integrity of the system. I believe he is being overruled by the ultimate source of the problem, Susan Reed Tanaka (Manager, Engineering). She has nearly 20 years’ experience warmly welcoming experts into the fold, only to ignore their advice and stab them in the back later. In my case it didn’t cost the public purse any money, but in Paul Arthur’s case, it did.

In the late designer’s archives at the ROM is a note dated 1991.04.30 attached to a letter dated 1991.04.05 to Susan Reed Tanaka. The note says she disagreed with everything he said during a phone call and claimed the tests of his signage system were in fact controlled (when they weren’t, I presume). Arthur’s note ends with “Keep out of this. It is a mare’s nest of trouble.” It remains thus.

(I asked TTC for a response – several times, in fact. Brad Ross claimed that “[t]he job requirements, I believe, are broader than graphic design alone,” but did not respond my request that he verify that they actually are. Susan Reed Tanaka didn’t bother to respond to the E-mail and letter I sent her. Through Vickie Drew, she stated “I took exception to the accuracy and tone of your correspondence,” though she did not correct any claimed inaccuracy. “Accordingly, I respectfully decline to comment.” A later letter dated 2010.07.26 said the same thing.)

The disturbing fact about Reed Tanaka is that she executed an impressive user test of platform-edge tiles down at Bay Lower involving everyone from wheelchair users to women in “stilettos.” She has the capacity to do reputable design work herself, but none I can see to accept the design work of others. (She won’t comment.) The nonsensical, universally criticized mishmash of signage in the Toronto transit system flourished under her tenure. Now the TTC is hiring a deputy.

What fool would apply for this job, and what fool would they actually hire?

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2010.07.15 14:31. 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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