Friday, September 19, 2014

Subway Series

No, not Yankees and Mets but a series of maps and a story. In my days as a graphic designer, I worked on maps. Specifically the New York City Transit Maps when I worked for Michael Hertz Associates. I did Manhattan, Staten Island and Queens bus maps, guide-a-rides at the bus stops, Express busses, and was a junior designer on the New York City Subway map, working with the always interesting Nobu Sirasi. The impetus for this blog is that The Museum of Modern Art recently sent a notice celebrating their new gift shop products designed by Massimo Vignelli and they included his Subway map on the page. Seeing it lauded gets my dander up. I really dislike this map. In the interest of design, I agree it is good looking but in the interest of the user, it is incorrect! It can get you lost in a New York Minute.

Vignelli's map has subway lines that run only in straight lines with 90° or 45° turns. This causes geographic errors —on  the West Side of Manhattan, Broadway is seemingly misplaced. It shows as west of Amsterdam Avenue when it should be east. It drifts toward West End Avenue near 72nd Street, where it should intersect with Amsterdam. It passes West End Avenue north of it's endpoint creating several blocks of fictitious Upper West Side real estate, the Broadway line crosses the Eighth Avenue line not at 42nd Street, but at Columbus Circle, Bowling Green is not actually above Rector Street,  and these  are only a few of the map's geographic errors. According to the New York Times, Vignelli said, “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.” ...“On purpose we rejected any visual reference to nature or landmarks." Vignelli further defended his design by pointing out that diagrammatic representation is common practice.”

I worked on the map after his. It is not so pretty but it does a great job.  In fact, a version of it is in use today. A lot of work went into the planning. Helped by
Dr. Arlene L. Bronzaft, an Associate Professor of Psychology at Lehman College and Dr. Stephen B. Dobrow, the editor of transportation newsletter Notes from the Underground and an Associate Professor teaching urban systems at Fairleigh Dickinson University, a committee focused on the relationship between transportation within a city and an understanding of the city’s geography, and they asked actual New Yorkers. Michael Hertz, my former boss, was contracted by the MTA to execute the new  ideas. The new map featured subway lines that bend and turn along with New York City —a hybrid of the graphic and the geographic.. This is important because I think we have the most complicated system in the world —a result of being first and of the conglomeration of competing transit companies/lines.  MoMA may not think it's good design, but our map is an early successful exercise in user interface —the mantra of the modern world and it works!

But since this an "art" blog,  here is some for you, created on the Subway. You have to work fast or take the local to Coney Island. Artwork by Josh Bayer, Kurt Hoss, and Tony Serio.

By Josh Bayer

By Kurt Hoss

By Tony Serio

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