SEPTA: Let’s get there faster together.

Karl Li
4 min readNov 14, 2018

A call for crowd-sourced Service Design and Tactical Urbanism

BSL — City Hall Station


My wife and I moved back to Philadelphia at the beginning of the summer.

After spending the last two years in the San Francisco bay area (that’s SF or San Francisco not “San Fran” for those of us who haven’t lived on the west coast before 😜) taking BART, MUNI and living car-free, we were excited to hear that the SEPTA had been undergoing a few upgrades.

No more tokens? Eureka. I was ecstatic.

Wait, it’s a Mastercard too? What?

…Until I had to buy my first keycard.

Apparently I wasn’t the first person to experience major struggles while trying to buy my first card. In fact these folks were so upset they created a 27 page proposal for improving the user interface of the Septa Keycard Kiosks.

So I’m glad somebody has done something about the kiosks, but I still have a few problems:

…I’m terrible with directions.

…I don’t know which platform I’m standing on.

…I don’t know where different exits will take me.

Basically…I still get lost while trying to ride the SEPTA Subway Network. It’s especially terrible when it’s raining outside, and it’s Friday rush hour, and all I’m trying to do is get home for dinner.

But my hunch is that I’m not the only one. According to Septa’s 2017 Route Statistics:

  • The Broad Street Line averages 124,218 riders per day from NRG Station (formerly known as AT&T Station) to Fern Rock Transportation Center.
  • The Market-Frankford Line averages 187,449 riders per day from 69th Street Transportation Center to Frankford Transportation Center

That’s hundreds of thousands of people! If you’ve experienced the same pain I have over the last couple of months, tweet me at @SeptaUXman

So here’s my question Philly —

What if we could leverage service design and tactical urbanism to provide daily SEPTA riders a better service experience of taking the SEPTA Subway Network? What if we could crowd-source all the confusing signage and pain-points and then collectively help each other out?

Wait. Stop. What’s Service Design? What the heck is Tactical Urbanism? I don’t have time to access the nitty gritty, merriam-webster’s definitions of each of these ideas, but go ahead click on the links and check out the websites if you have time.

For the purposes of this project, Service Design and Tactical Urbanism are both problem solving methods that borrow elements from many formal types of work combining them together in order to deliver simple, effective and creative results.

According to the Service Design experts Marc Stickdorn & Jakob Schneider, there are 5 basic principles in practicing service design:

  1. User-Centered
  2. Co-Creative
  3. Sequencing
  4. Evidencing
  5. Holistic

#1 is going to be easy. As someone who already takes the SEPTA and qualifies as a rider, I’ll be scratching my own itch and hopefully helping others out too at the same time.

#2 is going to require someone to join me. The only criteria is that you need to have ridden SEPTA.

If you’re interested in joining me, follow me on twitter or tweet me @SeptaUXman. What about #3 through #5? Well…let’s figure that out as we go.


“So is this side East? West? I’m walking already so I guess I’ll find out…”
“What is this sign trying to tell me? Is this a joke? For real tho?”
  1. Riders waste time walking up and down different tunnels because they’re not sure which direction is which.
  2. Riders walk through the wrong tunnels and end up on the wrong platform which is going the opposite direction of where they need to go.
  3. Riders take the wrong exit and come out on the wrong side of the street.

Design Challenge

How might we improve the signage of the SEPTA subway stations so that riders spend less time walking in the wrong directions, have less trouble finding out where they need to go, and feel less like 🤬and more like 😁or even 🤩?


Starting with the most high-traffic subway routes (BSL and MFL) we’ll use empathy, observation, graphic design and create posters in order to improve signage, direct riders to where they need to go and affect the greatest volume of riders.

Philly SEPTA riders. Join me! Together, we’ll get there faster together.

Follow @SeptaUXman for project updates!




Karl Li

from the east coast to the east bay and back. product designer @quilhealth.