Last night, the Museum of the City of New York hosted a panel discussion on “The New York City Subway Map: Form v. Function in the Public Realm.” It was a cartographer's wet dream, featuring an all-star cast of subway map designers and aficionados debating the finer points of designing for NYC, and the larger implications of how technology is shaping and redefining our sense of direction.
The panel of speakers included Massimo Vignelli, the revered designer of the 1972 subway map; cartographer John Tauranac; Paul Shaw (of the Helvetica documentary); and Eddie Jabour, inventor of KickMap and its iPhone app. The four men traded barbs, and went into detail about their own relationships with subway maps; Vignelli talked about the criticisms of his '72 map design, and noted he never perceived the map as a navigational tool. He also made an impassioned plea for sleek, modernist maps like there are in Europe, which Capital New York said was "a League of Nations-like response in a WikiLeaks era."
Tauranac discussed the small aesthetic victories of the 1979 edition of the map, and his disgust over the latest version of the map, mocking its “bilious” colors and its lack of a service guide. Shaw discussed how much of a mess the NYC transportation system is, and added that part of the problem lies with the MTA: “The MTA doesn't think of it as a subway map, but as a transportation map.” Jabbour went last, and brought up the new social class divisions that could be spawned from the availability of technology: “The elite have the smart phones, but what about people who use the subway?”
For more subway map fun, check out our interview with Michael Hertz, who designed the 1979 edition of the map. He gave some insight why the NYC subway system (and its map) looks so different from other major cities, "New York is the one of the largest and most complex transit systems, and it is the only city whose system was originally created by three private companies operating partially overlapping lines and not as a single comprehensive system, all competing for the same riders in the Wall Street area over a hundred years ago."