In the mid-1960s, when Massimo Vignelli redesigned the New York City Subway signage, he had to unify a disjointed set of informational and wayfinding signs that were a typographer’s worse nightmare. Fonts from the remnants of the IND, IRT and BMT battled it out, and many signs suffered from informational overload. Generally, those live on only in old photos and at the Transit Museum.
Yet, despite Vignelli’s generally clear modular approach to transportation graphics, some idiosyncrasies remain, and a few signs just don’t work. I’ve written before about my issues with late-night service pattern explanations which require an extensive knowledge of the subway system and also, seemingly, 99-percentile reading comprehension skills. Another sign that irks me is the one I photographed above.
That one is hanging at the rear of the Manhattan-bound platform at 7th Ave. on the BMT Brighton line, and for the sake of spacing the “-form” has been separated from its “plat.” Conceptually, it makes sense, but it requires a logic leap that a good wayfinding system wouldn’t impose upon its users. “What’s a plat?” one might wonder before landing on “platform.” And all of that just to save a little it of blank space.
The problem is one of flexibility. This sign is, in Vignelli’s terms, a 1×3 — one row of three squares of equal size. Adding the “-form” suffix would require an additional square that would be mostly blank. It wouldn’t look clean enough for an Italian designer who’s work revolves around straight lines and clean angles. You could perhaps put “Exit Middle” and “of Platform” and two separate lines, but then the text would bleed over the edge of the 1×1 square.
The best solution would require doing away with modular designs entirely so that the entire sentence can fit on one sign. There’s enough room along the platform to hang such a sign. Or else, you could do what long-time SAS reader Todd suggested and replace it with a sign that says “No Exit. Turn around.” That’s far more in line with the bluntness New Yorkers know and love.
For more scenes from the New York City subway system, be sure to check out my Second Ave. Sagas Instagram profile, and give me a follow if transit infrastructure photography is your thing.