AIGA Studio Tour at Metro Design Studio

Last week, I attended the AIGA National Design Conference to get a 2019 recharge on my creative outlook. It was a packed schedule of talks, symposia and meeting designers from around the country, but my favorite part was the kickoff event: a studio tour at Metro Design Studio, the creative team behind the LA transit system!

As a second generation Angeleno, my extended family has been excited to experience LA’s transition to transit with the addition of a train system since we first heard it was coming. This is not to belittle the already-great bus system, but trains really made it possible to envision a life integrating transit for everyone. The Metro LA look has been simple, accessible and colorful to help expand ridership beyond only those who depend on it. We’re in an interesting time in LA now that the basic lines are operational and the new roll-outs are extensions and connections. What a great time to take a look behind the scenes and see how Metro LA will communicate to all possible riders in our huge city and get them to think about tapping in!

There is a really cool showcase room for environmental graphics and way finding where all kinds of signs are displayed together. Putting everything together like this is a great way to envision how it will be interpreted by users, make sure everything makes sense and communicates clearly. Most of the current signage in stations explains line extensions and local surroundings, but as they manage growth, information about the transition from color to letter naming systems will rotate in along with a standardization of way finding at some stations. The breadth of Metro branding is so huge, it truly does not fit in one room, but looking at everything together is how you manage the message across so many channels of communication.

When you work on a campaign with so many layers, you want to have a wall like this where samples of everything reside and walk by it a lot and let it sink in, think about how it’s working, let that one little thing annoy you about it and address it before it’s permanent. The sheer list of work to keep track of all of this is epic. This is brand design on the largest scale I have ever considered, mainly because the target market keeps the scope of it so big.

The most impressive thing about visiting this studio was how process-oriented they remain even in the face of such a huge scope and scale of work. The designers who spoke about breakout projects talked about research and had us participate in telling them what was most important to us as potential riders. There are so many back-discussions to every public decision here. I’ve worked with far smaller operations that want to put aside process with the misguided perception that they’ll be able to churn out work faster, but once process is no longer the foundation, rules break, standards deteriorate, messages are garbled and brands fall apart. And if Metro can stay on track, anyone with a target audience smaller than all of Los Angeles can do it.

This was a truly inspiring way to kick off our conference, and I’m excited to start using my Metro/AIGA tap card!