Mind The Graphics

First Mike Figgis was enlisted to improve behaviour on the buses, now Transport For London has turned to graphic design in an attempt to make it easier to get on and off crowded tubes.


First Mike Figgis was enlisted to improve behaviour on the buses, now Transport For London has turned to graphic design in an attempt to make it easier to get on and off crowded tubes.

From 14 February, London Underground is to trial various graphic devices on the Jubilee Line. The markings are designed to encourage those waiting on platforms to let passengers off the train before getting on themselves. There are four different styles, each style to be tested at at least two locations from the following list of stations: Canada Water, Canary Wharf, Green Park, Kilburn, London Bridge, Swiss Cottage, St John’s Wood, Waterloo, West Hampstead and Westminster.


The graphics seem to be split roughly into two camps. The first (shown below) references the box junction road-marking which seems apt, if reliant on public transport passengers knowing their highway code. Drivers approaching box junctions, if I remember my theory test correctly, are supposed to wait until their exit route is clear before going into the area bounded by the yellow lines, so by placing one of these by the doors of the train, impatient would-be passengers will be encouraged to wait until the doorway is clear before boarding.


The other styles to be trialled use directional arrows more akin to the instructional graphics found on packaging (see below). Though graphically more interesting than the box, they are also a lot more complex and perhaps more difficult for passengers to grasp.


According to LU, “The key objective [of the exercise is] to assess the influence of the markings on passenger behaviour and its impact on cutting delays.” So, can design make the Underground a better place? Which design do you think will work best?

  • I was on the Jubilee line on the weekend and saw the yellow [X] design on the platform at Canada Waters. The tube pulls up and the folk on the platform swarm to the doors as normal, before the passages get off. So I’m giving it zero points for effectiveness, but wouldn’t be surprised if it is chosen: it is garish and over the top just like the red bus lanes in case, double red no stopping lines and no smoking signs everywhere (surely it makes more sense to have ‘smoking here’ signs, as it is the exception rather than the norm now, I digress…). Platforms would look like [X] MIND THE GAP [X] MIND THE GAP [X]. Please no.

  • No. 2 is my personal favourite, but I’m sure the box-junction style will prove most effective because they’re so in your face they are almost impossible to ignore!

  • They did something like this in SouthAmerica to let the people know how to get into a train with a pig or which train stations are fine with people carrying guns.

  • I was recently in Tokyo where I used the JR Yamanote line extensively (like about 10 million other people). They have graphic markings like this on every platform and it;s great. Of course they also encourage standing in line for the doors… something I doubt will ever be seen in London or New York (where I am). That said, the designs in Tokyo also had the number of the car that would be approaching that spot, and on the pillar next to it is a map of the forthcoming stations on the line and their places of exits (stairs, escalators, lifts, disabled access) so that, for example, you’re waiting for the Picadilly line at Leicester Square, you know where to get on so that when you arrive at Holborn you are immediately at the exit area. So simple, and yet so rare.

    God help New York’s MTA… we don’t even have digital boards for wait times, let alone fluorescent paint!

  • Jef

    The final one seems most literal and when trying to give instructions like this, I think the more literal the better. The others using arrows show where people are getting out, but don’t show how one should board. All of them, especially the big yellow X’s seem an invitation for people to stand in that spot to wait, “This is where the door will be? Cheers thanks a lot!”

    This seems like the wrong way to go at this problem. A public information campaign to change people’s behavior, and point out why it is wrong to jam in before people exit would seem a better use of design. I mean many regular commuters understand this concept and they don’t need paint on the platform to comply, and many will never comply and the paint just gives them the ability to rush the train. Its the people who don’t get it until you explain the problem who need reaching out to.

    touristique, it’s funny you should mention lining up to board. When I moved from Boston to New York I was dumbfounded that people get in line at bus stops (at least in the Outer Boroughs). In Boston people just mill about at the bus stop then make a mad dash to be the first on the bus, regardless of the order in which one arrived at the stop.

  • I agree with Jef, the last one’s the most visually instructive, however the [x] box is the most bold due to its heavier line width.

    Given a choice, I’d pick the bottom one, but make the arrows larger and fatten everything up – currently, given the scale indicated by the people in the carriage, a single pair of feet would completely obscure the meaning of the arrows, rendering the design ineffective.

  • alexparrott

    I think this is a great idea and well needed here in London. I especially like the large envelopes – if these go ahead I’m sure the guerilla marketeers won’t waste anytime in utilising them.

  • jason

    I never understood why the exit ‘corridor’ would taper as it moves away from the train (last image) – surely this creates a bottle neck? Bangkok’s Skytrain does it better where it actually widens, and it works. http://www.flickr.com/photos/sftrajan/2227828508/

  • Hi,

    I have seen similar graphics being used in Delhi Metro (India) and from personal experience I can tell that they are ineffective. I thought the problem existed in India only.

    They use the last one where they make it obvious that people getting in should enter from the sides.

    Apart from images they tried telling people that they should keep left. This seemed to work better for some time but then over a period of time it stopped working.


  • Since people seem unable to use even the most basic levels of common sense (and manners) to realise that standing clear of the doors and letting the passengers off first is the best way to do things, are they really going to pay any attention at all to some floor graphics?

  • Jungo Merry

    Standing aside to let people off first is common sense, something 75% of tube passengers dont have. Why cant we just ban stupid & rude people from the tube, then we wouldnt have over crowding in the first place.

  • The same happens here in Porto and it’s sad that you have to do this kind of things. Common sense should be more effective than some lines on the floor, but since it’s necessary, i think the first one is bolder and is a recognizable signal from the traffic code. If this fails, the next step is sending some smoke when the doors open.

  • They’ve had these markings on platforms in Hong Kong and Japan for decades. As more and more people use the transport systems, the notion of any organised decorum goes out the window. We’ll have longer trains blowing hot and cold air throughout the year selling us car insurance and dispensing Starbucks in a few years’ time – mark my words…

  • Markus

    In general, we’re a nation of instinctive queuers anyway. The problem is we cant move against another queue going in the other direction.
    Surely with the current width of the train doors a two-way system could be applied? If we’re going to go on the theory that the majority of the passengers are highway code literate, then surely a left lane and right lane for embarking and debarking the train would be appropriate.

    This, of course, overlooks the growing obesity stats which the U.K. faces. Some of the passengers may currently need whole doors to themselves!

  • The arrow ones are in use in Paris and even though I only saw them in use at non rush hour times they seemed effective. Anything is worth a try to stop the mad scramble for space.

  • Jim

    Im starting to feel more and more like a sheep everyday.

  • RB

    The Singapore metro has similar markings, but they also use video displays and loudspeakers at each exit and on the trains themselves to remind people. Constant reminders!

  • beautifulloser

    I agree with Jef – the boxes with crosses especially are likely to encourage people to stand there knowing it’s the door area. Plus we all know crosses are bad – and it’s another prohibitive sign.. we already have too much prohibitive signage (and legislation). Would anyone agree & go as far as to say there’s sign pollution on the streets these days ?! It possibly only encourages “anti-social” behaviour, in the old fashioned sense. (article on this:
    http://www.core77.com/blog/object_culture/sharing_street_space_for_a_safer_bohmte_8777.asp )

    Best ones I’ve seen are in Hong Kong and Bangkok. Helpful rather than intrusive and they do encourage queueing.. and especially in Hong Kong, where there is such little space, everyone respected the queue ! What I mean is, it will take more than -and in fact, less – instructions!? Still -something iconic and pretty would be nice..

  • mark

    it worked for me, and the other people waiting to get on the jubilee line at canada water. then again, not many people got off or on due to overcrowding, which gave us ample time to review the patterns on the floor and make our choice to go against the flow or stand behind. you would like to think common sense would make people step aside, not information graphics.

  • Patrick Burgoyne

    Myself, Mark and Eliza from CR got on the Jubilee Line at Waterloo last night. Platforms there have the markings second picture from bottom. Most people were obediently standing outside the white lines. There was a bit of anxious edging towards the doors as the train rolled in but, overall, peace and harmony reigned. At London Bridge, however, they were totally ignored and it was the usual, bad-tempered scrum.

  • We have the final one in all stations here in Singapore. When they were installed a couple of years ago things got better for about a month and then apparently the yellow lines became invisible to waiting passengers because most went back to crowding the doors.

    The big yellow box with the cross in it I think is likely to make people who stand in it more self-conscious, but if people crowd the edges of the box at busy platforms, will alighting passengers find it equally difficult to escape?

    =) Marc

  • Kenneth Maage

    A simple affordance would be to make the area extremely uncomfortable to continue standing in as the train approaches. Graphics would then be unneccessary. Some ideas:

    Jets of air blasting up from the floor (the Marilyn Monroe effect)
    Horror-movie arms reaching up to grab passengers legs
    Spikes lowered from the ceiling into the area
    Old fashioned trap-doors

  • Common sense = Uncommon.
    Polite people = always do as expected
    Dumb people – minus manners = problems
    And these problems do not have solutions. If they cant use common sense / manners/ logic there is slim chance they shall ‘read the signs’. It only results in the rest of us feeling like sheep! baaa- argh!

  • Jef

    Part of the problem with keeping people abiding by a system like this long term is people (maybe especially Londoners) don’t want to be confrontational. You have everyone acting as they should standing clear, then one jerk decides to stand in the box. Rather than anyone else confronting this person and instructing them to correct their behavior, others start to think, “well if this jerk’s gonna stand in the box, I’m not gonna stand here on the side like a doofus.” If there’s no punishment for bad behavior, good people join in on the bad behavior.

    I like the idea of being ironic or clever about it. I remember years ago living in Boston waiting on the green line platform at Park Street, one of the canned no smoking announcements came over the PA. “Massachusetts state law prohibits smoking on all MBTA cars and platforms…” but after the canned bit, a live person came over the PA without missing a beat and added, “so git that cigarette out yo mouth!” And a guy standing down the platform from me smoking a cigarette freaked out and looked around and threw down his cigarette. Everyone else on the platform got quite a chuckle out of it, and I’m sure that man never smoked on the T again.

  • This is what I can perhaps see happening at rush hour on the tube:

    Group 1 – Come down onto the platform, notice the signs on a perhaps empty platform and stand outside the boxes, being mindful that they can let people off that way.
    Group 2 – Follow group 1 onto the platform to find the platform almost full. Struggling to find a place to stand they move down along the station and find these convenient hatched areas to stand in that are right in front of the doors. Train arrives and group 2 boards first. Train gets full, closes doors and group 1 has to wait for the next train.

  • In Caracas, Venezueala they have an excellent graphic system that works – on each side of the spot where the doors open, little caterpillar type ‘paths’ are marked out on the floor, so an orderly queue forms and plenty of space for people to get off first.

    No doubt Ken has spunked a load of cash on a design research project for this, involving focus groups and lord knows what else, when all he needs is a roll of yellow tape or a paintbrush.

  • People will obey the box junction design: I’ve seen it already at Notting Hill Gate station in London.

    But I can’t quite work out why people actually need marshalling?

    Other than some bossy boots transport/people planners who wants to sit in their eyries, controlling the movement of humanity.

    The underground is (in theory) a public place.

    And one of the great things about public places with flows of people is that people find their own flow. One of the by-products of this is that, God forbid, people get in other people’s way and slow immediate, efficient progress.

    Can I be naive for a moment…can people please stop bossing me around?

  • Your own flow ends where my own flow starts.

  • My suggestion,

    Put the boxes/arrows halfway between the doors so people wait there thinking thats the door area.
    By the time theyve realised theyre in the wrong place when the train stops, hopefully some people would have made it out.

  • Here’s a similar advertisement I made last year, oriented around Chicago


  • So how are the graphics working out? You would think the boarding procedures and traffic flow would be common sense amongst the riders but you never know

  • Michael Innes

    My first reaction to the first photo with the yellow X boxes was that they weren’t entry points for passengers. Having a big X means that you shouldn’t go near there, perhaps they are meant only for service personnel. Alternatively, if I had only seen that one sign (and hadn’t seen the one-way arrows in other areas of the subway) I would assume that the X means “No entry”, perhaps meaning that it’s a one-way only.

    In general, the yellow X feels unclear.

  • Cameron Popp

    Here’s an idea,

    Instead of using paint to display the graphics, use some kind of medium that can get the message across and then change once everyone has exited. By this I mean using a sort of television screen the ground in place of paint so that it can be dynamic and not static like paint. And possibly have a weight sensor that flashes when someone stands on it (the TV screen) so that they can be sure to keep it clear until the train arrives. That way when people form the open space around the door, no one is going to step in front of them because an annoying array of lights will flash when they step in that area.