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 theydigitized 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.
If you don’t follow “The Creative Influence” on Vimeo, I suggest you take the afternoon off, click through to follow them, and get lost in the content they have uploaded. Believe me it is easy to do. They produce some really interesting stuff, that as their name suggests, focuses on creative. The video below is the latest installment featuring Michael Beirut, as he speaks about his mentor Massimo Vignelli, design process, how the internet has changed the way designers work, and what gives a logo staying power. It’s seven minutes long. Take a break from what you are doing and give it a look.
Massimo Vignelli, the legendary Italian graphic designer, is very ill and spending his last days at home with his family. Over the last week a number of sites have been asking for fans, designers, and everyone to send Vignelli a card or a hand written letter. You may not know who he is, if you don’t work in the field of design. You do however know who he is, because his work is everywhere. Vignelli has had a massive impact on the field of visual design since he arrived in the United States in the 1960’s, and his work will have an impact for decades to come. Luca Vignelli put out the call to the internet last Friday on The Creative Review, asking that anyone for whom Vignelli was an influence or an inspiration to write him a letter. Yes a real physical snail mail letter. I dropped mine in the post last Saturday. Below are a couple of videos of Vignelli talking about his work. The first was produced by Mohawk Paper about a year ago. The second, if you have time to watch it, is from VCU and is 23 minutes of Vignelli talking about design, theory, practice and principal. Both are worth watching. Both show why Vignelli is a true master of design.
You can send him a note at the following address.
Massimo Vignelli 130 East 67 Street New York, New York 10021