Home Subway Maps For Men’s Vogue, Vignelli issues an update

For Men’s Vogue, Vignelli issues an update

by Benjamin Kabak

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.

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Eddie Jabbour May 2, 2008 - 7:31 am

To the writer’s comment above, the KickMap only superficially “evokes” the Vignelli in its use of separate lines (which, by the way was not original as it was already in use on the previous NY subway map design in 1967). In fact, the KickMap was the first to use same-color trunk lines of the existing system – in that way it seems that the “new” Vignelli map actually evokes the KickMap to many viewers.
The KickMap is quite different: its a Hybrid-style map design that takes the best elements from both disciplines of map making – diagram and topographic – to make a map that exceeds either in clarity and ease of use in translating the most complex subway system in the world to both novices and NY natives who are travelling outside of their usual sphere.
The KickMap has its station positions that are “location-accurate” – all the stations are in correct position in relation to each other and to the topography above. It also presents the grid of streets and parks above to help in orientation. The Vignelli Map has neither feature.

Kid Twist May 2, 2008 - 9:57 am

I still use the original Vignelli map. Now, where is that QJ train already? I sure have been waiting a loooong time.

JAR May 2, 2008 - 1:03 pm

It’s good that some people will pay $500 for it, because I can’t see how the Vignelli diagram can be appreciated for much beyond art value. Even if you can point to a station, you cannot immediately tell which train stops there… just that “something” does. It seems like it can only really be used or appreciated by people who know the system and NY geography VERY well.
The KickMap, on the other hand, seems to beautifully aid those least familiar with both the system and the streets above – in a way that doesn’t compromise geography for the sake of making an artistic statement.

skunkwade May 4, 2008 - 8:38 am

I got myself one. It is a great-looking map, and a limited-edition to boot. I’ll frame it and put it on my wall. There’s got to be some subway buff who will pay me double what I paid. I mean, it’s got two articles written on it already, that’s gotta be worth something.

skunkwade May 4, 2008 - 8:39 am

to be clear, I ordered one earlier, haven’t gotten it yet.

Alon Levy May 4, 2008 - 11:21 pm

Bleh. When I first rode the subway, I found the standard map perfectly helpful. My first ride went smoothly even though I had to transfer twice and the first conductor didn’t announce stops. If anything, I’d say the map’s too inaccurate: I once searched for the subway on Lex in the 20s and 30s, not understanding why it wasn’t there.

I’ve never ridden the Underground, but I regularly used the Singapore MRT, whose map is presented in the same style as the Underground’s. My experience with orienting myself was uniformly negative. I knew where my station was, but had no hope of finding from the map where I might end up if I stopped one station too near or too far.

Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog » Blog Archive » A subway system easier to navigate June 18, 2008 - 1:52 am

[…] Modernist designers of the era. While Vignelli would come to fame and imfany in New York due to his artistic but confusing subway map, the system still relies on signage and graphics he designed over four decades […]

MaryO June 19, 2008 - 10:22 pm

I spent a semester in 7th grade learning to navigate the city with this map and the bus maps. From high school through to this day, people ask me for travel advice because I learned so well. The map was fine–for natives, I guess. And it was a beauty of 70s art.

Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog » Blog Archive » » The long history of fonts in the subway November 28, 2008 - 2:05 am

[…] creator of the one the subway system’s most controversial maps also designed its omnipresent graphics, as he discusses on his website. Vignelli used a sans serif […]

Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog » Blog Archive » » Second Ave. Sagas’ top ten of 2008 December 31, 2008 - 2:26 am

[…] As 2008 draws to a close, I’d like to look back on the year that was on Second Ave. Sagas. We talked a lot of transit policy as the MTA dealt with a financial crisis, the death of congestion pricing and fare hikes. While advertising often took center stage, we had our fun too as the MTA neared completion on a new station and an old Vignelli original returned. […]

The graphical state of the MTA funding debate :: Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog April 15, 2009 - 12:00 pm

[…] and the weekly mag comes a guide in subway map form. While not quite as confusing as the old Vingelli subway map, this new chart attempts to replicate a map with which we are all familiar. Check it […]

From Vignelli, a map design philosophy :: Second Ave. Sagas September 14, 2012 - 1:00 am

[…] the past few years, Vignelli’s map has enjoyed a resurgence. Men’s Vogue sponsored an update in 2008, and MTA’s Weekender map has delivered Vignelli to the digital realm. The designer himself […]

futureNYCSubway v2 | vanshnookenraggen August 28, 2013 - 10:10 pm

[…] me to redraw the entire thing anyway. The solution was to use the updated Vignelli map, the 2008 version of the historic 1972 map which was much less accessible and deemed a failure. The 2008 update is […]


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