Diagram vs. Map

NYC Subway

Last Friday New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) introduced its new “The Weekender” website, dedicated to helping passengers navigate the byzantine weekend closings and delays on the subway system. And guess what? To aid the user, the famed yet flawed Massimo Vignelli 1972 subway map was revived, although not as a map but a diagram. I wrote about it for my New York Times T-Style “Graphic Content” column:

“Vignelli told me, the map was “created in B.C. (before computer) for the A.C. (after computer) era.” He’s right again. His original, economical format is perfect for Web accessibility. The new digital iteration is the result of the combined efforts of Vignelli and two of his associates, Beatriz Cifuentes and Yoshiki Waterhouse. One of their first acts was to rename the map. It is now a diagram, which actually makes sense as it is not a literal representation, but a semantic one.”

The semantic distinction enables the geographically accurate map to co-exist with the diagram, thus providing the user with overground (map) and underground (diagram) vantage points.

The revival of such an iconic graphic forty years later, suggest that really effective graphic design is not just a fashion statement, even if at its time of inception it was tied to the zeitgeist.

For more on the Vignelli map go here, here and video of Vignelli explaining the original map here. (Illustrations: details of the new diagram (above, below top),  detail of key (below middle), current geographic map (below bottom).

NYC SubwayMTA NYC Subway


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