The Singapore MRT network grew from just five stations in 1987 to six aboveground and underground lines in 2020. The growth also meant navigation became increasingly complex. And I noticed people are spending more time looking at maps in stations.
This prompted me to redraw the map, to improve journey planning experience, and at the same time explore the relationship between the city and its metro network.
Providing a Focal Point
Using a circle helps break the monotony of a traditional schematic route map, which can help make the map easier to read. Commuters can also correlate their location within the Singapore MRT network to the circle; whether they are within the circle, to the east or west of the circle. So a mental map can be formed and retained more easily.
In 2015, LTA announced that the Circle Line will finally be a full circle with Circle Line Phase 6. I was inspired by Moscow’s beautiful System Map (my hero map) which had the Koltsevaya Line (Line 5) shown as a circular line on the map. JR-East also displays the famous Yamanote Line in Tokyo (which connects major stations like Shinjuku, Ikebukuro and Tokyo) in a circle to improve wayfinding.
But I wasn’t sure if the layout of Singapore’s MRT network will allow us to introduce a circle onto the map without creating more confusion for map readers. So I started with a sketch to allow myself to visualise what general shape we are going for.
To determine the size of the circle, I plotted the stations on the Circle Line, highlighted the interchange stations and connected dots. The city area is getting increasingly congested as stations are built closer to each other, and so the circle also serves as a “magnifying glass” for the more congested area of the system map.
The original idea was rejected, as there was no need to change what’s already familiar in Singapore.
So I shelved the project and focused on building the new signage system instead.
Over a year later in 2017, I decided to revisit this and push for the new map. I figured, what’s one more change to propose when we are already pushing to change the entire signage system.
After numerous iterations, I had the opportunity to share the map at the Transit Mapping Symposium in June 2018. With constructive feedback gathered, we were able to improve further which is the result that we see today.
We also conducted ground sensing surveys to test how much information is too much. This also enabled us to guage what kind of feedback the team will receive, and how much of it, when we replace a staple of over 20 years in Singapore.
The map was finally approved in late 2018, for launch in 2019 with the opening of NS12 Canberra station and TEL Phase 1.
Multilingual Maps Debut
System Maps in Singapore’s four vernacular languages are made available for download, for the first time in Singapore. QR code linking to the download page is printed on all system maps for quick access.
To enable this, we had to convince the website team (that has been working to declutter the official website) to dedicate a spot for the maps. On top of that, we created an official URL that will not expire even when the site undergoes a future upgrade. Before we can even generate and mass print the QR code.
Contexts enable commuters to correlate stations to their surroundings, even in a schematic map. The outline of the island was added to show that the network serves Singapore islandwide. It also enables us to tie in the water feature for the Marina Bay Area.
Balancing the map between being geographically accurate and schematic (for better reading) has been a key challenge. Commuters may even ask for more content to be added thinking that this map should behave like Google Maps.
We added five visually prominent landmarks of Singapore located around the Marina Bay Area to the map. These icons were chosen as they can be seen from across the Bay, enabling commuters to relate their surroundings to underground stations near them.
We also learnt that commuters often alight at the wrong station to look for these landmarks, which resulted in an array of unsightly makeshift signs plastered in stations. Learn how the new signage system aims to further address wayfinding challenges here.
Placing iconic landmarks of the city on the map can also help strengthen the brand of the city.
The Marina Bay Area has many MRT stations. But the one ‘Marina Bay’ station isn’t exactly in Marina Bay.
Managing visitors’ expectations can help reduce hurdles and choke-points later in their wayfinding journey.
The System Map is often the first touchpoint of a metro system. Today, it can be found online even before one has reached a station. This is why a significant portion of the map is dedicated to tools that commuters can use to learn how to use the system. It is the first touchpoint and an opportunity to introduce the signage system of the Singapore MRT.
Singapore celebrated the new map on Social Media
Project Name: Singapore MRT System Map Revamp
Software: Illustrator CC, After Effects CC
Year: 2015 – 2019
Launched: 11 Dec 2019
Download the Singapore MRT Maps from LTA’s Website
Future System Map (up to 2031) with all gazetted lines in planning and construction phases, published in 2020
The new System Map is part of the revamped Signage System.
Read about it in the next chapter.