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Massimo Vignelli's 1972 Subway Map

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Sara Van Rensselaer

on 11 December 2014

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Transcript of Massimo Vignelli's 1972 Subway Map

Massimo Vignelli's 1972 NYC Subway Map
Henry Beck
George Saloman
Vignelli's Map
Krysten Walker & Sara Van Rensselaer
Although he didn't consider himself a designer, Beck's London Underground Map design of 1933 has influenced almost every subway system map since it was published. Beck was able to use layout principles from his career
as a technical draftsman to draw the route connections like he would a
circuit board. His map was able to bring order to the medieval layout
of London, allowing the map to organize the city instead of the
other way around. Using color coded lines and limiting
himself to 45 and 90 degree angles only, the complex
system was simplified to a format that was
understood by all.

Noorda + Vignelli
MTA Today
“The test of the goodness of a thing is its fitness for use. If it fails on this first test, no amount of ornamentation or finish will make it any better; it will only make it more expensive, more foolish.”
--Frank Pick, London Passenger Transport Board, 1933-1940
"Good design lasts longer. Bad design is ephemeral."
--Massimo Vignelli
“Don’t bore the public with mysterious design.”
--Bob Noorda
Mildred Constantine, curator for many exhibits on streets signs for the Museum of Modern Art, met Noorda and Vignelli in 1959. When the NYCTA came to her for advice on improving their signage system,
she recommended Noorda and Vignelli's design firm, Unimark International. After extensive user research, they presented
their suggestions to the transit authority. In 1968,
they were rehired to write a complete graphics
standards manual. In the end, the MTA
didn't have unified signage
until the late 1980's.
“When I was in London, I hated the Underground map. You’d get off the subway and have no idea where you were! It was horrible.”
--Kathryn Evans, raised in the NYC suburbs
“Of course I know Central Park is rectangular and not square... Of course I know the park is green, and not gray. Who cares? You want to go from Point A to Point B, period. The only thing you are interested in is the spaghetti.”
--Massimo Vignelli
In 1971, Massimo and his wife Lella Vignelli founded their design firm in New York, Vignelli Associates. After seeing Vignelli's success with the signage system, the MTA invited him back to redesign the subway map in 1972. It was rushed into production without any consumer testing, and complaints flooded in as soon as it was sent to the
public. Tourists couldn't understand where they were when
they left a station, and residents didn't understand why
Central Park was a square or why some lines
appeared to cross at the wrong
street intersections.

Boston, home to the United States' first subway system, laid the framework for the NYC subway system and for other subway
systems worldwide.
Milan, birthplace of Massimo Vignelli, was also the birthplace for fascism, industry, and the subway system
for Italy. The center of industry in Italy, even now, was
where the seeds of Bob Noorda and Massimo
Vignelli's partnership were planted, as Noorda
designed the signage for the
Milan subway system.
Today, the subway map is titled “New York City Subway, with bus and railroad connections,” which almost tells you everything you need to know about the complexity of the current map. The lines representing subway routes follow the paths with an almost absurd level of geographic accuracy. Within
Central Park, there are several blue patches representing the various
small bodies of water inside the park. There is a unique map in
every station, which include major tourist attractions, churches,
businesses, and other transit connections. New Yorkers
seem to cling to every bit of geography in their city,
taking pride in knowing how many minutes
it takes to walk from here to there.
The New York subway system was chaos until 1957, when George Salomon
from Appleton, Parsons & Co. approached the New York City Transit
Authority (NYCTA) with a proposal to standardize the signage used in the
subway system. While he proposed a number of ideas to improve the
usability of the subway, the only idea that the NYCTA adopted was
the notion of a color-coded map that drew upon the London
Underground map designed by Henry Beck in the 1930s.
Salomon’s map idea was implemented in 1958, 25
years after Beck’s London Underground
map was introduced.

“Out of the Labyrinth: A plea and a plan for improved passenger information in the New York subways.”
--The title of Saloman's paper asking for system unification
“America's First Subway”
--Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority
Full transcript