RIT Press: Vignelli Transit Maps

RIT Press: Vignelli Transit Maps

Vignelli Transit Maps by Peter B. Lloyd & Mark Ovenden is the first in-depth study of Vignelli’s contribution to transit maps, which examines in detail both the creation of the original 1972 map, and its re-creation in 2008 and 2011. The book also covers Vignelli’s designs for the maps of the Metro in Washington, DC, and the RER in Paris. It includes previously unpublished materials from the Vignelli Archives including a first glimpse at original, early development sketches of the famed map and of its recent successors.

“For a long time New York communication culture has been afflicted by a fragmentation disease, where verbal rather than visual information has had the priority. When I had the assignment of designing the New York subway map, that was the situation: fragmentation. In any case the map was done and it turned out to be beautiful but nevertheless short-lived. In 1979 it was replaced, and this book investigates its history, revealing interesting details about its demise. This book is also an opportunity to celebrate the work done a long time ago by my collaborators at Unimark and that done by my associates more recently.” – Massimo Vignelli, Vignelli Associates

This book is the first instalment of a multi-volume history of the New York City subway map – one of a planned seven! If you’re a Vignelli fan or interested in cartography I recommend you pick up a copy. Peter kindly shared with me the history of the project, how the process of producing the book worked (above is one of Massimo’s scamps for proposed layouts) and the answer to the question many of us would have – what is Massimo really like.

On what he learnt about Vignelli & Unimark –

One thing I learnt was Massimo’s extraordinary humility. He has somehow acquired a reputation of having a great ego, but in fact my observations point in the opposite direction. The transition – if one may put it that way – of the map stewardship from Massimo to Yoshiki and Beatriz (within Vignelli Associates) is being made possible by Massimo’s willingness to let go of a design that he regards as one of his best creations. Of course, he is still involved in the new map, but he has allowed the young blood a serious degree of freedom in re-imagining the Vignelli map. I know that, in private, he is still attached to certain aspects of the formal beauty of his 1972 map, but in public he always acclaims the new map as the best New York City subway map ever.

Massimo does have an enormous passion for good design, and he regards bad design as contemptible. Possibly people have misinterpreted this as ego. Not so. For example, when he failed to win the contract for the Washington Metro map, he effusively praised the map that Wyman and Cannan designed. What matters primarily is that the public should have well-designed artefacts. There is an idealism that Massimo has sustained throughout his half-century of work: he genuinely believes that good design makes the world a better place, and – although he does not use such elevated language – this seems to be like a spiritual aspiration for him. Design is not just a job for Massimo Vignelli. It is a calling.

Vignelli: Transit Maps by Peter B. Lloyd, in collaboration with Mark Ovenden
Published by RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press
128 pp, 9″x12″, richly illustrated in colour

Luke Tonge