NYC subway diagram 2008 by massimo vignelli for men's vogue
NYC subway diagram 2008 by massimo vignelli for men's vogue NYC subway diagram 2008 by massimo vignelli for men's vogue
may 18, 2008

NYC subway diagram 2008 by massimo vignelli for men's vogue

massimo vignelli recently updated his iconic 1972 new york city subway map for the may 2008 issue of men’s vogue. 500 signed prints were made available through the men’s vogue website with all proceeds going to the NY based charity ‘greenworker cooperatives’. while the signed version is now sold out, unsigned maps were also available for free within may issues of men’s vogue at select retailers  across the states. designboom recently caught up with men’s vogue editor mark rozzo to ask him about the collaboration with vignelli.
designboom: how did the collaboration between massimo vignelli and men’s vogue come about?
mark rozzo: ‘I sent a note to massimo vignelli last winter to see if he might be interested in revisiting his 1972 NYC subway map. it was a pretty random idea and I had no idea how – or if – he might respond. to my amazement, he got back to me right away saying that, in fact, he’d just been thinking about finding a way to update the map after the success of the helvetica documentary and show at moma. as a fan of the old vignelli map, I thought the project would be a great asset to our may design issue: a chance not only to cover design as a subject but to be actually involved in creating great design with an acknowledged master. and so, in a way, the project was also intended as a salute to massimo himself at a time when so many people are again paying attention to the scope and enduring vitality of the work of vignelli associates.

new york city subway diagram, 2008 by vignelli associates, 2008 (courtesy of vignelli associates/men’s vogue)



DB: what does this project hope to achieve?


MR: we quickly decided that perhaps the best way to go about an initial run for the 2008 subway diagram was to create a high-quality art print and make it available as a limited edition. we also felt that, rather trying to turn it into money-making exercise, the real spirit of the venture was about new york and its history and its relationship with design. so it wasn’t much of a stretch to figure out that the proceeds should go to a worthy design-oriented nonprofit. the may issue also features a piece about omar freilla and his green workers cooperatives project in the south bronx (a sustainable-building/recycling initiative that was awarded a jane jacobs medal for 2007); it was only natural that the proceeds should go to this worthy effort that is all about encouraging sustainable design in new york.

new york city subway diagram, 2008 by vignelli associates, 2008 (courtesy of vignelli associates/men’s vogue)



DB: what are the key differences / refinements between the updated map and the original?


MR: massimo could speak to this better than I can, but what was appealing to me about the project was to see how all of the changes that have altered the subway system over the past 30 years would be reflected in a new vignelli map. massimo acknowledged the original critique of the map – that the geography of new york was abstracted to such a degree that some riders were confused. I got the impression that he might answer that criticism by turning central park from a square into a rectangle, making the water blue etc. but in the end, and very wisely, too, I think, massimo went the opposite direction. instead he actually abstracted the geography even further with the new map, realizing that the problem with the 1972 version  was that some people thought they were getting a map of the city instead of a diagram of the subway system. the update is much clearer since the color scheme of the subways has been simplified over the years, the color scheme of the vignelli map has shed its former ‘neon rainbow’ vibe: the colors are fewer and bolder (actually, massimo told me he kind of misses all the crazy colors of the old one!). the other big difference, I think, is the orientation of broadway, which is now strongly implied by a 45-degree angle and provides a focus for the whole design.

new york city subway diagram, 2008 by vignelli associates, 2008 (courtesy of vignelli associates/men’s vogue)



DB: the limited edition copies sold out in a flash, what do you think your readers appreciate about vignelli’s map?


MR: I think it suggests the degree to which the original 1972 map has become such an icon – a highly collectible one, too. there’s an appreciation of the old map that goes beyond aesthetics; it’s rich nostalgia for people who either lived or visited new york in the 1970s (a very heady time for the city, of course) or who (like me) moved here long afterwards and always wondered about what it would have been like to live here at that time. it’s a way of connecting with those feelings and to own an amazing piece of original design at what is really quite a reasonable price and to share in  this very fun moment of the map’s re-creation. who knows… maybe we’ll do a second printing…

new york city subway diagram, 2008 by vignelli associates, 2008 (courtesy of vignelli associates/men’s vogue)



DB: did you always intend to produce the free copies for the may issue of men’s vogue?

MR: that idea originated with vignelli associates. in our first meeting with massimo and his team of beatriz cifuentes and yoshi waterhouse, they presented us with fold-out mockups of the map and we were sold on it right away. not only because it meant that everyone who picked up the magazine could immediately have their own tear-out vignelli map (even if it’s just a detail of manhattan, which was the most we could do with a centerfold), but that this kind of presentation was a way of bringing a surprising design element to our design issue.

new york city subway diagram, 2008 by vignelli associates, 2008 (courtesy of vignelli associates/men’s vogue)



DB: do you imagine people might use the free edition?

MR: yes, that’s exactly it, and I think people are actually doing it.


DB: new york subway maps have been discussed frequently, particularly in graphic design circles, vignelli’s map, the current MTA design and more recently the kick map have all received  mixed receptions. do you have any preference?
MR: I think they all have their merits and speak to the fact – which massimo himself has pointed out time and again – that different people process visual information in different ways. I might feel that the official subway map of NYC (‘the map’) is convoluted, overloaded with information, and perhaps the most inelegant subway map in the entire world, but I use it every day and don’t tend to get lost.
DB: do you think that new york will ever have a subway map that people agree on?
MR: probably not, for the reasons given above. massimo’s idea, really, is that his design isn’t so much a map as it is a diagram of the subway system and that there is a place for his vision alongside a conventional map that would show the city’s geography.
DB: one that manages to ‘look good’ and is also ‘highly functional’?
MR: in terms of looking good, the vignelli map, both its 1972 incarnation and the current one, have never been matched in new york’s history. I also feel it’s highly functional, as it presents information  in a crystal-clear, systematized, distilled way.


DB: can we expect any similar projects / collaborations with (graphic) designers in the future?


MR: we’re always looking for new ideas and projects. we do a limited edition page in each issue, and they’re often collaborations with designers and craftspeople that we brainstorm with. for instance, our previous map project was with redstone studios, a small enterprise that practices painstaking, hand-drawn cartography. we approached them about doing their first-ever globe, which they did – a beautiful specimen. one of the redstone globes was acquired by the new york  public library for their maps collection. it would be great if they got a vignelli map too! read more about massimo vignelli’s updated NYC subway map for men’s vogue here

related links:
designboom interview: massimo vignelli (2006)

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