SEPTA Key Is A Huge Design Opportunity For SEPTA

Design generally isn’t something you should have to worry about as a public transit authority, but it makes a big difference. As a historically token-based system, card design has never been one of SEPTA’s strong points. If you’ve ever had a SEPTA pass, I think you know what I mean. If you haven’t, here’s what they generally look like:

SEPTA Passes

One-Day passes are huge. Weekly and Monthly are very busy. Sometimes they even have ads. The font on the student passes (not pictured) is… dated, to put it nicely.

Now, let’s look at the cards used by others. New York’s MetroCard is simple.


San Francisco Bay Area’s Clipper Card: simple again and even has collectible designs.

ClipperCard_HighRes Golden_Gate_Bridge_Clipper_card

If we go overseas, the simple trend continues. While Myki used to come in three (four if you count staff blue cards) designs that were supposed to denote card type, that’s now changing to one design, which is not the old one shown below.


Sydney’s Opal still comes in three flavo[u]rs, but the colo[u]r coding actually works.


And then there’s Japan, whose card comes in so many different designs and names – but they generally all work with one another – I’ll just include the beautiful 100th Anniversary of Tokyo Station design.


How I mentioned how they all have simple, appealing designs? They’re all the complete opposite of SEPTA. However, SEPTA is getting ready to roll out SEPTA Key, which will replace not only tokens, but all existing paper passes. To the best of my knowledge, we haven’t seen what this card will look like yet, nor if there will be a different design for registered (named printed on, ordered online) vs unregistered (bought at a retailer or vending machine). Either way, it’s an opportunity for SEPTA to continue its dramatic design overhaul. The new fare gates look great, Dilworth Park Station looks too good to be a SEPTA station, and if you’ve looked very closely at recent signage, colors and fonts have changed very slightly.

The fact that we don’t know what the card will look like, has led to some mockery:


I’d like to hope it will look something closer to this:

Key Mockup

Excuse the lack of rounded corners, but pretend they’re there. The final designs we’ve been presented for Key so far are a huge improvement over the test signage, which reflected what I hope is now the previous generation of SEPTA. The designs are trending towards simple, and introduce new blues and reds in to the SEPTA color palate. The mockup above uses the exact same swirl on the Key website that is also present on the bright red validators. The only two elements that are actually my own are the “John Doe” and “Welcome Aboard” in Helvetica Neue.

Is it the actual design we’ll see? Who knows. SEPTA and Xerox have been keeping that a closely guarded secret. Test cards that I’ve seen in use so far alternated between SEPTA photo IDs and blank, white cards. I can only hope the Key curve design makes it to our cards as well (fingers crossed for this year.) If it doesn’t, sorry SEPTA, but depending on what it does look like, I’m getting sticker paper and printing over it.

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