User-centered information systems can improve the journey experience.
The way people are able to move around a city directly impacts their everyday experiences of it—and making the city more legible and easier to navigate can create major social, environmental, and economic benefits. That is the central precept of City ID’s work on a new urban information system for Birmingham, UK, and other cities around the world.
City ID is renowned for its user-centered research approach to wayfinding and information systems for cities. Members of the team based in Bristol (UK) and New York have led the development of information systems in major cities around the world, including Bristol (the originator of the Legible Cities concept), Birmingham, London (planning for the Olympic Games and its legacy), New York, and Moscow.
In Birmingham, City ID is leading the development of a comprehensive urban information system designed to help move people around the city-region via a multi-modal transportation network. Interconnect is a key part of Birmingham’s Big City Plan, an ambitious 20-year initiative to create a more livable, economically successful, and better-connected city.
Unlike many urban wayfinding systems that are “piece-mealed” based on individual transportation modes, Interconnect encompasses all of the city’s transport options (including rail, tram, bus, bicycles, and walking) and recognizes that travelers often use multiple modes during their journey.
In addition to providing a comprehensive signage and wayfinding system, Interconnect also guides investment in new transit interchanges, shelters, and street furniture; improvements to streets and pedestrian spaces; and improvements to the transportation network itself—including route changes, vehicle liveries, new ticketing processes, and better reliability.
The central focus of the information system is the needs of users.
“In any city, the movement network and information to support it should be built around people and their everyday journey needs,” says David Gillam, principal designer for City ID. “They should encompass the needs, abilities, and limitations of all types of people—from novices to experts, including commuters, business visitors, tourists, people in a hurry and people who have time to savor the journey.”
City ID’s research process identifies and profiles different types of users and their individual needs, then tests and refines solutions that provide information in a simple, intuitive way that reveals options about what to do and how to get there. The benefits of this type of user-based approach are many, including promotion of public transport (environmental), promotion of business, cultural, and service offerings (economic benefits), and quality of life improvements (social).
Technology = success
Urban wayfinding systems will increasingly be multi-channel and connected, says Gillam. “For people on the move, information systems will need to be customized to their location and preferences, making tailored information available in real-time using digital tools as well as on-street products and services.”
Interconnect is designed to work seamlessly across multiple communication channels, providing on-street information totems that are complemented by a range of printed maps and digital services—such as integrated RTI displays and interactive touch screen journey planners. Most of the totems are powered and illuminated, providing highly legible graphics and dynamic information where appropriate, 24 hours a day. Some of the totems include audio announcements for the visually impaired. Options for greater connectivity with personal devices are being explored for future phases.
The system also provides walking and transit network maps that connect people to the city’s rail, tram, and bus transportation options as well as approximate travel times so users can gauge if they want to walk or take transportation. The maps provide information about types of activities and services in each area, helping to raise awareness of local offerings.
The project is being delivered by a partnership of organizations that serve residents, businesses, and visitors, including the City Council, Marketing Birmingham, the city’s Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and Centro (regional transport authority). Partners are now building on the success of Interconnect to attract further funding and the project has been cited as best practice by the European Union. Centro, City ID’s partner and client for Interconnect, is currently rolling the Interconnect system out across other parts of the West Midlands in the UK—using the core principles and guidance to contextualize the system for other cities and places within the region.
Client: Centro, Marketing Birmingham, Birmingham City Council
Location: Birmingham, UK
Budget: Not disclosed
Open Date: 2012
System Design: City ID
Design Team: Mike Rawlinson (design direction); Jason Smith (project management); David Gillam, Matt Jephcote (principal designers); Jason Clark (cartographer); Liam Randall, Tom Eves, Cal Jepps, Josh Sherwood (information designers); Jenny Janssen, Lottie Webb (planners)
Consultants: Monotype (typography); Creactive Design (product designer); T-Kartor: (cartographic database)
Other Collaborators: AECOM, Amey, Atkins Intelligent Space, Davis Associates, Halcrow, Ocula 3D Design Studio, Peter Brett Associates, RSL
Fabrication: Trueform (Manufacturer), Ferrograph (digital displays), Bigger Printing Company (vinyl prints)
Photos: City ID and Jesse Alexander