Helvetica and the New York City Subway System
Short before christmas we got this awesome book from MIT Press written by Paul Shaw. As we saw it in the internet, we liked the idea of making a book about the New York City Subway System. It’s astonishing how many designers and attempts it needed to find a good, direct informational font.
About the book
For years, the signs in the New York City subway system were a bewildering hodgepodge of lettering styles, sizes, shapes, materials, colors and messages. It has been a struggle between centripetal and centrifugal forces. The first company starting with the railway from City Hall in lower Manhattan to the Bronx was the IRT (Interborough Rapid Transfer). With more and more popularity by the public the company wanted to expand it’s railway. But another company appeared as a concurrent to them the BMT (Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Coorporation). Because the IRT and the BMT competed with each other, passengers had to pay full fares to transfer from one company to the other. Than a third subway network opened in 1932-1940 - the IND (Independent Subway System). Every system had it’s own cars and they were not fitting at to each other, also the font and design was different. But how could the problem been solved?
The first coherent transportation sign system was created in the 1960s by Colin Forbes for the Heathrow Airport. The result looked a lot like Helvetica. After that Bob Noorda, director of Pirelli, made an own modified version of Helvetica fitting to the Milano Metro. The font became popular even in other subway systems. In 1966 helvetica was offered for sale in New York City as foundry type, lynotype matrices, prototype and even transfer type.
But why wasn’t it available for the subway signage? And how did Massimo Vignelli and Norrda changed it? What happened in the 70s? Why did everybody want a finally functional system?
Paul Goldberger famously wrote in the Times Magazine, that the city would be better off if the signs weren’t there at all. It wasn’t till the late 1980s when helvetica became ubiquitous, but what happened during that time? Find it out and read the book!
While NY has the Helvetica we still have the Rotis from Otl Aicher, like Montreal, Portland, Seattle and some places in Singapur or New Zealand. It’s a very functional but in the end not that perfectly shaped font like Helvetica, as we think. Therefore we like to visit NY, not only for sightseeing, but also for the New York City subway information system. The book gives you all the interesting informations about the use of helvetica in a public space and even in the most discussed process of our time. We recommend this book to people visiting or living in New York and to designers all around the world. Helvetica is one of the most criticized fonts, but here its use is very slected and prfessional.
Get it in our Typostrate book shop
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