The Iconic NYC Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual Reissued.

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.

A Woman of Identities. Paula Scher.

Four minutes of Paula Scher, the principal of design consultancy Pentagram, brought to you by the people at Gestalten. This is a pretty straight forward interview on her thinking about identity design, and design in general. You may or my not be familiar with her name, but I guarantee you have come in contact with her work. Scher has developed visual identities and branding systems for Microsoft, Coca-Cola, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Public Theater, and many more that you will probably recognize in this short film. You can never have to much knowledge and insight in your brain, and this little interview is guaranteed to educate, and stimulate your gray matter.


The Drawing the Process.

“Drawing is a thought process, not a means to reproduce what you see.” this quote from Daniel Weil in the video below, is a a comment that surfaces about 3 minutes in. It arrives as Weil shows off his sketchbooks, and talks about his process, why he draws, and how it helps him resolve problems, and complete ideas. I have said for years, you can’t design if you can’t draw.

This is fundamental to every aspect of the design industry from graphic to industrial to motion and beyond. It is also something that seems to be slipping away from many designers entering the industry today. I say this, because less than 3 years ago I sat in a meeting with a junior level designer that actually said “What if I can’t draw?” after being asked to sketch out some ideas. At the time I remember thinking, “How did you get a degree in design if you can’t draw”, and then moving on.

Over the last few years, the “I can’t draw” phenomenon has surfaced again, and again. This video, shows you why as a designer, you need to, and should draw, sketch, and visualize with something beyond your computer.

The Forty Story. Pentagram’s 40 Year History.

You may not think you are familiar with Pentagram, but one look at the body of work they have produced over the last 40 years and you will be instantly aware of who they are. An iconic design firm, this animated short chronicles 40 years of work with wit and charm.

Written by Naresh Ramchandani and Tom Edmonds
Directed by Christian Carlsson
Additional animation by Simone Nunziato
Sound design by Iain Grant and Wam London
Music by Graeme Miller
Titles by John Rushworth
Design by Pentagram
Voiceover by Daniel Lapaine

Design Friday. Alan Fletcher.

You might not know his name, but chances are you’ve seen his work. Alan Fletcher was one of the most celebrated and prolific British designers of the Twentieth Century.

Fletcher was one of the most influential figures in post World War 2 British graphic design. His fusion of the cerebral European tradition with North America’s emerging pop culture and the formulation of his distinct approach made him a pioneer of independent graphic design in Britain during the late 1950s and 1960s.

A founding member of Pentagram, Fletcher helped to develop a model of combining commercial partnerships with creative independence. Fletcher also developed some of the most memorable graphic design of the era, notably the identities of Reuters and the Victoria & Albert Museum,

Born in Kenya in 1931, Fletcher moved to England at the age of five after his father became terminally ill. He was raised by his mother and grandparents in west London, growing up during World War 2. Like most children of the era Fletcher attended Christ’s Hospital, a boarding school in Horsham, where like his fellow classmates he was destined for a career in the army, the church or banking. But at the point where Fletcher had to make a choice about his career path, he chose a different route, opting out of the rigid groove of post-war British middle class life and took up a place at Hammersmith School of Art.

During the 1950s Fletcher attended four different design schools, each one more cosmopolitan than the last. Fletcher left Hammersmith for the livelier environment of the Central School, where he found himself in class with his future partners Colin Forbes and Theo Crosby as well as such other future luminaries as Derek Birdsall and Ken Garland. After graduating from the Central School, Fletcher spent a year abroad teaching English in Barcelona and then won a coveted place at the Royal College of Art, where his contemporaries included the artists Peter Blake and Joe Tilson. His tenure with the Royal College of Art lasted three years, at which time he entered an exchange program with Yale University.

At Yale, Fletcher was taught by American Masters Paul Rand, and the artist Josef Albers, which heavily influenced his emerging design style and sensibility. Fletcher also arranged visits to prominent graphic designers studios such as Robert Brownjohn, Ivan Chermayeff and Tom Geismar in New York. It was through these visits that Fletcher won a commission to design a cover for Leo Lionni, art director of Fortune magazine, which at the time was a showcase for modern design and a client at the top of every aspiring graphic designer’s wish-list.

After graduating from Yale, Fletcher did a short stent with Saul Bass in his Los Angeles studio before returning to England via a trip to Milan. It was this trip to Milan that landed Fletcher one of his first design jobs that would help propel his career forward over the next ten years. In Milan, Fletcher took a job working for the Pirelli design studio. It was this brief job that allowed Fletcher to return to England with an established client, and one that would ultimately help him start his own design studio with friend Colin Forbes in 1959.
Over the next decade and a half Fletcher worked with a variety of clients helping to build his reputation as a designer, and establish him as a design influencer in both Europe and North America. His working relationship with Bob Gill, and Theo Crosby, set in place what would become the foundation of Pentagram which he would form in 1972 with Theo Crosby, Colin Forbes, Kenneth Grange and Mervyn Kurlansky.

Over the next 20 years Fletcher continued to work, expanding Pentagram, until leaving in 1992 to form his own independent studio at Notting Hill Gate in London. Over the next ten years Fletcher would work as a consultant to Phaidon Press, publish a series of books on design theory, and help to develop he visual identity of the Novartis Campus Project in Basel, Switzerland.

In 2001 Phaidon published Fletchers The Art of Looking Sideways on Fletcher’s visual philosophy. If you are a designer and you haven’t read it, go to the library and check it out. It’s worth your time.