Artifact of Subterranean New York Resurfaces - Design Bureau


Artifact of Subterranean New York Resurfaces

Tuesday, October 7th, 2014

Text by Vincent Caruso

Photos by Hamish Smyth & Jesse Reed

The New York City Subway is routinely relied upon by millions of jostling metropolitan busybodies for the to-and-from of their day-to-day. And while Groundhogs Day-like repetition of the working week may surely foster a blasé familiarity with one's commute route, there exists still an undeniably efficient system of signs & symbols eternally holding the hands of the unceasing fractions of the city's new inhabitants, visitors, lovers on holiday, loners on business, snoozers waking a few stops too late, the enviably less familiarized Yorkers who've managed to circumvent the nine-to-five cycle, and so forth who take it for granted. Though it may seem silly to lament the under-appreciation of something as customary and inanimate as a subway route number, there was a time in the not-so-distant past where the outcome of one's commute was left up to each wandering New Yorker's clairvoyance.

It wasn't until 1970 when Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda plunked the first Graphics Standards Manual onto the desk of the New York City Transit Authority, who tasked the two Unimark International notables with the undertaking in 1967. For better or worse, these subway graphics have endured a small handful of facelifts and revisions in the decades that have followed, but the original manual is credited with not only facilitating the development of Modernist typography but influencing a new wave of Modernist design in general. This is why then that it was a moment of spectacular luck when Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth discovered a highly rare original pressing of the manual - quite literally - in a locker beneath a pile of old gym clothes.

Inspired by the instant virality of a subsequent website the two built to host scanned photos of the graphics, Reed & Hamish concluded that the truest way to experience the classic designs was in print. The duo launched a Kickstarter campaign to crowdfund the publishing of the manual in book form for the first time in forty-two years. The book will retain all the original manual's long-admired features including its classic Standard Medium typeface. The funding period for the Kickstarter campaign runs until October 10 and presently offers backers of the project a variety of reward benefits assigned to varying pledge amounts, including access to project developments and behind-the-scenes material for pledgers of $3 or more and a copy of the book with free shipping for pledgers of $98 or more. Per the constraints of the agreement reached with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the production run of the book will be extremely limited, with ability to purchase the book extending only the duration of the Kickstarter funding period. Books are expected to be shipped this Spring.

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