My nabe, done up Vignelli style. (Courtesy of Vignelli Associates via Men’s Vogue)
The Massimo Vignelli subway map is back and better than ever. As part of a charity project for Men’s Vogue, Vignelli, famous in New York for his much-maligned 1972 reinterpretation of the subway map, has updated his famous and infamous map to reflect subway realities in 2008, and his map remains a beautiful work of art.
Vignelli’s map, as I’ve discussed in the past and Tina Kelley explored yesterday on City Room, was controversial from the moment it made its its debut in the 1970s. Visual Complexity, a site on the design of complex systems, describes the beauty:
It was a marvelous conceptual map, and it was easy to read. It was a tool for navigating the subways, although not one for navigating the city streets. Out with the complicated tangle of geographically accurate train routes. No more messy angles. Instead, train lines would run at 45 and 90 angles only. Each line was represented by a color. Each stop represented by a dot. There was an obvious influence from the London Underground map, originally created by Harry Beck in 1933, however, Vignelli took it one step farther, in creating the now-famous intertwined wiring-diagram map of New York’s vastly complicated subway lines.
Kelley, writing for The Times’ website, discusses the drawbacks:
With its 45- and 90-degree angles and one color per subway line, the 1972 subway map by Massimo Vignelli was divorced from the cityscape, devoid of street or neighborhood names. It was criticized because its water was not blue and its parks were not green. Paul Goldberger called it “a stunningly handsome abstraction” that “bears little relation to the city itself.
…It was accurate in the same way a poem could describe a playground in March. Descriptive and accurate. But sometimes puzzling. People got lost using it. (The 50th Street and Broadway stop, for example, was east of 8th Avenue instead of west.)
Vignelli himself was never apologetic for this shortcomings. “On purpose we rejected any visual reference to nature or landmarks,” he said to Men’s Vogue.
He was aiming instead to duplicate the feel and style of the Underground maps from London. “People expected a map instead of a diagram. But diagrammatic representation is common practice around the world since the London Underground map of the thirties,” he said.
Meanwhile, in the intervening years, designers have attempted to rebel against the relatively bland MTA-issued Map. Eddie Jabbour’s Kick Map evokes Vignelli’s original map but with a few more details.
Vignelli’s new map is a return to the simplistic beauty of his 1970s creation. The colors of the subway lines matchup as they should, and the white-on-light-blue background forces you to examine the subway system outside the reality of New York City. The map celebrates the subway system as its own unique entity seemingly divorced from the subway. You can’t navigate around the city with this map, and admittedly, it’s probably tough to find your way to the right stop at times.
While we won’t see this Vignelli map replace The Map anytime soon, it was available for sale through Men’s Vogue for $300 with all money going toward the Green Workers Cooperative. The print run of 500 sadly sold out on May 1, but you can already find one on eBay. I envy those of you who had a chance to buy one of these unique prints. It is a collector’s item indeed.
For more close-ups of this one-of-a-kind map, Men’s Vogue has a slideshow.