New York’s MTA Map Gets a New Look—and Goes Digital

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New York City’s MTA map has long been the stuff of design legend (and even design division, between adherents of its different interpretations).

So how do you meaningfully update something that has not received a significant redesign in four decades?

You simply make it work better.

Blending the clarity of Massimo Vignelli’s layout, the geography of Michael Hertz Associates and an infusion of the 21st century, Work & Co partnered with the MTA and the Transit Innovation Partnership on a pro-bono project to improve the lives of New Yorkers.

The map, simply dubbed the Live Subway Map, is now live in beta. Accessible without the need for a download, it provides real-time route data so commuters can get where they’re going faster than ever before. (Hey, if you’re going to have to wait an extra 18 minutes for the train, at least the new map takes the hair-pulling guesswork out of the equation.)

“We saw an opportunity to help New York City by building a tool appropriate for our time,” says Felipe Memoria, founding partner at Work & Co. “As designers, we admire the history of the MTA’s legendary printed maps, but technology enables us to create something more powerful. We are laying the foundation for transit systems around the world to adopt real-time maps that further encourage the use of public transportation.”

Following a process that ultimately took 18 months, the map debuts in a city that was hit hard by COVID-19, making it an essential asset for efficiently navigating public spaces.

All told, the new map offers train tracking in real time; line updates about out-of-service trains and one-way traffic; zoom functionality that allows easy reference of subway entrances, station names and the streets aboveground; detailed info on accessibility, from elevators to escalators; and emergency alerts.

Given the iconic nature of the original maps and the significance of any updates, Gary Hustwit—the filmmaker behind design documentaries including Helvetica, Objectified and more—documented the development process.

Check his short film out below.