User interfaces and software wayfinding

7 June 2021
7 Jun 2021

I was walking through the Oculus structure in the World Trade Center train station in New York, and began thinking about signages and signage design in such a busy transportation hub.

The battle between form and function is nowhere more fierce than in a busy transit hub, where utility and accessibility are top priority, but you don’t want to sacrifice the aesthetics of architecture. I personally find New York City’s metro transit signage system surprisingly functional (given the complexity of the system) and also beautiful in kind of a brutalist way. I even have a little coffee table book at home, that’s just 200 pages of finely printed reproductions of the MTA wayfinding system.

When I visit places like the Oculus or the LAX airport, though, my awe is not simply about the utility and minimalism of signages themselves. There’s a way that the architecture of these large transit hubs blend utility with beautiful, aspirational design that I just don’t see replicated often in digital design. Airports and train stations aren’t simply logos and signs and labels for sake of information – they’re part of critical infrastructure, and carry an immense burden. But even under that burden, we manage to design elegant and beautiful structures. Why can’t we, in the software world, under the burden of economic incentives and pressure of “intuitive” design, also design structures that are as beautiful and aspirational as they are functional?

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