Today’s Obsession: Design Process of an NYC Subway Map

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Here’s an interesting counterpoint to one of Steven Heller’s pieces at about the design of the New York subway map. While the Heller piece is a good survey of the history of the maps, this is a good from-the-trenches account of what it meant to actually design it.

I like this as an addendum to Steven’s piece because it shows the stark contrast between what designers say they love and what actually works for the medium. Steven asserts in his piece that “aesthetically speaking, I prefer the oft-criticized 1972 Massimo Vignelli design,” which I have heard many times over from many designers, and it’s a stereotypical designer opinion that makes me grind my teeth. Yes, it may be lovely, but if an object meant for stringent usage doesn’t stand up to it, what’s the frigging point?

This difference between Good Design and good information design is becoming much more clearly defined as we work more on the web, where information design must be considered without question. When the Vignelli piece was created, it was easier to slip out of that noose from the lack of immediate contact with the users.

The Vignelli piece might have actually operated better on the web, where its visual reductiveness could be offset by interactive features. Too bad so few of this older guard of designers are contributing meaningful information design to web-based tools.

If anyone knows of good examples that would prove me wrong, I’d love to see some links in the comments section.