The new Apple Watch may offer navigation via a paired iPhone's GPS system, but (Maps bugs notwithstanding) wayfinding used to be a skill, especially here in New York City. While the grid of streets and avenues bears a semblance of intuitive legibility, the sinuously criss-crossing subway lines has long been rather less forgiving. The city-wide system itself originated with the merger of the privately operated IRT, BMT and IND in 1939, but each line continued to publish its own maps (sans the other two) and signage until the late 50's; the major turning point came a decade later, when the NYCTA commissioned a comprehensive overhaul of the signage and wayfinding system in 1967. Some four years in the making, Unimark International's codified design language is far more profound than the empirical typography and glyphs that characterize the subway system today; rather it captures the essence of visual communication qua user experience. Sure, any poseur can get ahold of a 1972 Subway map, but true aficionados will go for the real deal, available now on Kickstarter for the first (and last) time: the 1970 New York City Transit Authority Graphic Standards Manual, meticulously authored by the late designers Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda of Unimark.
Known simply as the Standards Manual, the original ring-bound text is something like the contemporary equivalent of the Rosetta Stone: a dictionary, encyclopedia case study and veritable holy text rolled (or rather Smyth-sewn) into one. As a canonical document of high modernism, it's right up there with the Gutenberg bible—a beautiful object in and of itself—and Pentagram's Jesse Reed and Hamish Smith are offering a faithful reproduction with the blessing of the Metropolitan Transit Authority itself.
In 2012—42 years after the Standards Manual was released—we discovered a rare copy in the basement of design firm Pentagram.
Now, under an exclusive agreement with the MTA, we are scanning and printing every page in a full-size hardcover book.
The MTA agreed on the reissue with one condition: it will only be available during this 30-day Kickstarter campaign.
After this campaign, the book will never be reissued again.
Is it just me, or does Standard Medium (later changed to Helvetica, of course) look kind of like a heavier version of Apple's new typeface?
Upon their initial discovery, Reed and Hamish simply published the Standards Manual digitally but have since seen fit to publish a scale reproduction of the 364-page omnibus for posterity's sake, a felicitous tribute to the recently deceased Vignelli and his unsung colleague Noorda (who passed in 2010). Narrated by Pentagram partner Michael Bierut, the reverential video is also on point; drool on your keyboard now because you won't want to ruin your copy of it: