Bilingual Customer Testing

At the heart of Auckland Transport’s journey towards a more inclusive bilingual wayfinding system was a desire to standardise their approach to te reo Māori - the Māori language. Starting with existing network precedent, we used an iterative testing process to refine the treatment of text, colours, patterns and symbols on bilingual wayfinding signs.

Guided By Customer Needs

Through testing we sought a better understanding of customer needs - so we could evaluate against them. For each of three sessions we designed new wayfinding signs for The Strand, an existing train station. During these sessions we had test participants solve a series of problems within the station environment - taking note of what participants were looking at and how they were using the information provided. We could then evaluate these behaviours against assumed customer needs to help us refine sign designs further.

As a result of testing, we established a number of key insights: straight away we discovered that it was important to have balance between equity and distinction - two languages needed to be distinct, but not cross that fine line into having one appear senior. Additionally, we identified that people who spoke little English or Māori struggled to differentiate each, that the organisation of colours and symbols played a significant role in offering short-cuts to customers, and we identified real ‘too much information’ points where details became overwhelming for many people.

Challenging Assumptions

Our testing both confirmed and challenged many assumptions. These results have since informed projects widely across Auckland Transport’s different areas of work. The most direct result of the testing is that our preferred strategy has been adopted as a new standard and will be included in future wayfinding guidelines. Auckland Transport have been able to roll out bilingual signs with confidence that their system works as intended. But more broadly the testing has also contributed to the wider debate over the role of language and culture on signs in Aotearoa New Zealand, by clarifying the gap between what is assumed, and what is evidenced.