How Massimo Vignelli’s famed subway map marked the end of modernism in

In 1978, the Cooper Union artwork college in NY city held a debate between two designers that will decide the future of info design for the largest public transit system in the world. However proof that it occurred was elusive till now.

Final summer season, filmmaker Gary Hustwit discovered a recording of the occasion that had by no means been made public. Hustwit, together with Requirements Guide and design company Order, is now publishing a transcript of the recording and pictures for the first time in a brand new ebook referred to as The New York City Map Debate, with a foreword by Pentagram associate (and map lover) Paula Scher. The transcript reveals entreaties and insults. Highly effective proof backing either side. At the end of the day, it wasn’t only a heated design drama. It was a microcosm of shifting design tastes away from stripped down minimalism—and the consequence had actual implications for subway riders for many years. “The concepts right here about communication, about knowledge visualization, about the way to current lots of complicated info—some of the concepts from either side nonetheless apply [today] regardless that we’re barely utilizing paper maps,” Hustwit says.

[Image: courtesy Standards Manual]

Huswit had spent the earlier summer season digging into the historical past of the NY city subway map for a brief movie in coordination with an replace of the metropolis’s subway map, and had heard of the debate however couldn’t discover particulars. He bought in contact with Cooper Union, which as likelihood would have it, had simply tracked down a recording in its archives. He then discovered the photographer of that evening’s occasion, Stan Ries, who found images he had utterly forgotten about in a storage unit. All of these artifacts went into the ebook collaboration with Order and Requirements Guide, which has produced different lovely books on design historical past, from NASA’s worm brand to the official image of the American Revolution Bicentennial.

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[Image: courtesy Standards Manual]

So how did one thing seemingly mundane, like a map, turn out to be a flashpoint? It began a number of years prior, in the early seventies, when the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) launched a map designed by famed modernist designer Massimo Vignelli and his agency Vignelli Associates, which he based after leaving the design agency Unimark. (His former Unimark associate Bob Noorda helped design the MTA signage mission in the ’60s that preceded the map; Unimark lead designer Joan Charysyn additionally contributed.)

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[Image: courtesy Standards Manual]

It’s a good looking, easy diagram that gave subway riders solely the info they wanted and never a pen stroke extra. Subway traces appeared in simply 45 and 90 angles and each cease was marked by a dot. It was a breeze to learn, however its structure didn’t correspond with the geography of New York Metropolis, and it didn’t present any above floor streets.

To Vignelli, these have been pointless particulars. However it created confusion, in accordance with Hustwit. And a counter motion to interchange it emerged, led by the chair of the MTA Subway Map committee, John Tauranac. Tauranac labored with design agency Hertz Associates to develop an alternate map that confirmed extra details about the metropolis and streets. “Vignelli had stripped down [the map] with as little as you want,” Hustwit says. “Tauranac needed as a lot info as attainable.” The stage was set for when all of it got here to a head in 1978: Would the metropolis’s subway map be minimalist? Or maximalist?

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[Image: courtesy Standards Manual]

The designers met at the Cooper Union to make their respective instances. There have been six different specialists on a panel, and an viewers of designers, subway riders, MTA staff, and a “motley crew” of members of the public who have been in favor of one design or the different, in accordance with Hustwit. In the phrases of Hustwit, it was a “design versus non-design showdown.”

Vignelli pointed to his map’s simplicity and rationality, methodically exhibiting subway maps round the world as precedent. Tauranac made the case that it ought to resemble the geography of the metropolis as a lot as attainable. In the end, it got here all the way down to politics, personalities, and individuals who “actually hated” the Vignelli map, in accordance with Hustwit. “The whole lack of methodology, which this map [Tauranac’s] reveals, reveals that the primary philosophy is that the extra you add, the higher your communication might be,” Vignelli mentioned. “Because it occurs in communication, it’s simply the reverse method round.” Tauranac countered: “That is Mr. Vignelli’s map, which everybody can see is an aesthetically pleasing map. And it’s made some beautiful T-shirts for us at the MTA. However there isn’t a relationship between the subway routes and the metropolis above. I’m a local New Yorker, and I do know what New York seems like, and it doesn’t appear to be this.”

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[Image: courtesy Standards Manual]

In the end, the consequence was written on the wall, in accordance with Hustwit. Tauranac armed himself with rider polls and lobbied the metropolis; Vignelli didn’t. “[Tauranac] was extra tapped into that world,” explains Hustwit. Minimalism be damned, Tauranac’s map received.

The talk bought at some fairly existential design questions. “How a lot info do it is advisable to talk one thing?” requested Hustwit. Figuring out the correct quantity of info, the proper design or visualization for every context is “the problem any communication designer faces,” Hustwit says, whether or not it’s one phrase or a complete model. These subway maps exemplified two opposing approaches.

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[Image: courtesy Standards Manual]

However this wasn’t just a few heady design debate with no impression on on a regular basis folks. It has formed how New Yorkers and guests bought round—and even how they noticed the metropolis for many years. “It did [have design implications] for New York design as a result of the subway map is that this iconic factor so many designers revere,” says Hustwit. “It’s the lifeblood of the metropolis that makes use of public transportation.”

The talk was additionally a microcosm for a bigger shifting of the design winds in the late seventies, with Vignelli’s map as collateral injury in the transfer from trendy minimalism to postmodern maximalism. “[Vignelli] was making an attempt to deliver order to a really chaotic atmosphere by way of design. Via the signage of the subway and the map, it was his method of making an attempt to deliver logic and readability and clear communication to a metropolis that was not about it in any respect,” says Hustwit. “He tried to make use of graphic design and wayfinding to wash it up. Wanting again, it was a futile try.” Hustwit kindly means that either side received: Vignelli’s 1972 map is now thought-about a piece of artwork, and Tuaranac and Hertz’s late ’70s model lives on in subway automobiles to today.

However Tuaranac’s map is way from excellent. As my colleague Mark Wilson wrote final yr, “It’s extra geographically correct, but it surely truly condenses info that was in the Vignelli map. For instance, it combines particular person practice traces comparable to the C, D, and E traces into singular trunks.” That makes it tough for the MTA to convey when particular person traces aren’t working or have been rerouted. So the MTA and design company Work&Co tried to rectify some of the issues in Tuaranac’s map with an app launched final yr. It combines the greatest of each the Vignelli and the Tuaranac maps—let’s simply name it a truce.