Since David Heasty and Stefanie Weigler arrived in New York City in 2000, their studio TRIBORO has been fascinated by the NYC Subway system. “In 2009 we took on the immense creative challenge of designing an entirely new subway system map from scratch,” they note. “In 2010 our map debuted as the One-Color Subway Map, a graphic paradox and the first single-color representation of a city’s transit system. Later revised and released in 2016 as the Wrong Color Subway Map,” their designs have attracted attention and praise from media and fans of NYC from around the world.
The duo speaks so well about their “graphic parodox” I am giving over today’s Daily Heller to their explanation which they sent to me: “Our Subway Map project began in revolt to the official MTA New York City Subway map. We felt that NYC deserved better than this. The lack of visual hierarchy and the randomness of the map’s contours were ungainly to our eyes. Massimo Vignelli’s iconic map from the 70s was very appealing, but we wondered how we might design a NYC map of our own.”
“As our map started to come together, we saw that the visual hierarchy and aesthetic harmony we were striving for was already apparent. The use of 45 and 90 degree angles made the shapes of the landmasses more visually appealing and the typographic shifts in scale helped aid visual orientation, making the map easier to navigate.”
?The level of detailing on the project was immense. In keeping with our goal of combining accuracy with aesthetic harmony, we made sure we included as many major arteries and streets as possible to make the map rich in content. We added streets, parks, secondary transportation systems, and a great deal of info that was missing from Vignelli’s Map.”
“We were very interested in developing a suite of typefaces that would be unique to our map. Since the typeface used in the MTA system, Helvetica, has Swiss origins, we hoped our typeface could draw inspiration from the many type designers that lived and worked in NYC. In the end our type was inspired by the work of two New Yorkers, Tom Geismar and Herb Lubalin.”
“We asked ourselves why we should be reliant on that accepted approach to subway map design, specifically the reliance on color coding. We wondered if we could instead create a usable map printed in only a single color. The result would be a sort of graphic paradox, The One-Color Subway Map. With that new challenge in mind we had to rethink how a typical subway map functions.
The One-Color Subway Map functions by reversing the usual approach—where subway lines have a strong visual presence. Instead we made the lines very faint in color, and the viewer navigates by connecting-the-dots of the stations together. For the color we chose neon red. The vibrancy and unpredicability of the red added to the subversiveness of the project.”
“The Wrong Color Subway Map became the next evolutionary leap. One color was expanded into many—and they are all “wrong.” Subway lines traded their familiar shades for vibrant alternatives. For all the rivers, parks and landmasses, we selected the most inappropriate colors we could think of. Meanwhile every inch of the poster was redesigned to make it even more refined, precise and (to our eyes) beautiful.”
“One difficult aspect of the project was set t ling on a choice for the color palette. We tried literally hundreds of color combinations before we came to a conceptual solution comprised of 2 palettes, related to the two modes of representing light and color—the additive and subtractive modes, or familarly known to designers and photographers as RGB and CMYK.”
“Nearly every inch of the map was revised to reflect changes to the NYC subway system—like the newly opened 2nd avenue Subway line—and to improve upon the first edition from 6 years earlier. Above is a detail view of Manhattan from the RGB Edition.”
“The posters are huge, measuring 45 by 58 inches, equivalent to the size of the large subway maps located in NYC underground stations. We printed the maps at a master printer in Germany using the highest quality paper and Heidelberg presses. Neon inks received multiple hits for an even more vibrant effect.”
“The only thing we didn’t discuss is whether we heard anything from the MTA. The answer to that question is no. It’s not something we anticipated or were interested in. We hoped to produce a product that New Yorkers, fans of the city and Subway would appreciate and could hang on their wall. We think through this project we have presented some interesting ideas that could inform a redesign of the MTA map, but ultimately we would never imagined that the MTA would seek a redesign.”
The maps are currently on sale at Triboro’s online shop.