The CTA and the Prehistory of Usability | Bleader

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The CTA and the Prehistory of Usability

Posted By on 10.29.09 at 01:12 PM

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You think we're making progress? It's an illusion. The above applies only to the maps in the cars. On the maps in the stations, the CTA has gone back to showing the routes in different combinations of black (or blue) and white. Red, green, and blue are used as the map background colors. Red background means "A" station, green means "B" station, and blue means "all stop" station. You never heard of "A" and "B" stations? Don't worry about it, they're history. You remember "A" and "B" stations, but never realized the maps were color-coded? I didn't realize it either. In fact, if you talk to CTA old-timers, you learn they sweated over a vast scheme of colors for maps, signs, and lights that nobody ever noticed. Another subtext of this saga: the vanity of human endeavors.

Even by Cecil Adams's usual high standards, this week's Straight Dope Chicago, on the history of CTA line color schemes, is a barnburner.

But one part made me angry:

Attuned to the evocative power of color, and cognizant that Illinois license plate colors at the time were sometimes based on those of the state's universities, Howard realized the same might be done with the El lines. Northwestern's chief color was purple, so that was one obvious choice. Howard, however, had gone to the University of Illinois, which fielded one of the few teams NU in those days could reliably beat. Illinois's signature color was … orange.

I'll hold out hope for a Maroon Line, but not much.

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