By the mid 1960’s the New York subway way finding system was a visual mess. It was a mix of signage and styles with no apparent order to any of it. In 1967, the New York City Transit Authority asked designers Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda to design a uniform identity and way finding system for the subway that would give riders a sense of direction that was easy to follow and use.
Completed 3 years later in 1970, was the NYC Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual. This was the way finding system bible that became the face of the subway and is still in use today. Vignelli and Noorda gave us everything from color-coded route discs and line routes to the modernist sans-serif typeface ( the original font was Standard Medium, later switched to Helvetica) This design bible was distributed to designers, sign makers, and anyone else who needed help in designing, styling, and building a piece of the subway’s identity.
This iconic piece of work became a design classic in it’s own right, known to pretty much anyone that has studied or practiced design in the last 40 plus years. The manual was never intended for public distribution or consumption. Over the years as the NYC Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual was updated and revised to meet changing needs and habits, fewer and fewer of the original copies remained. Many of the original copies found their way to a landfill or were lost in locked closets and cabinets within the many NYC Transit Authority offices.
A few years ago, two designers for Pentagram’s New York office, Hamish Smyth and Jesse Reed, found a single copy. Knowing the importance of what they had they digitized the manual, and now they’re reprinting it with the blessing of the MTA for a very limited time. For the next thirty days, you can purchase a copy of the 1970 NYC Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual on Kickstarter. Pretty cool, and yes I’ll be buying one.