By Tommi Moilanen, designer
The New York City subway signage is considered iconic. Black and white signs with Helvetica showing just the information subway riders need at the points they need it and nothing more. After decades it still does its job remarkably well. Originally the signs were black text on a white background instead of the current reverse scheme of white on black but not much else has changed since then.
However, the map is a different story altogether. The 1972 map designed by Massimo Vignelli is considered a design classic and can be found in the collections of MoMA even though it was replaced over 30 years ago by being too abstract for the citizens of New York City.
The current map designed by a committee lead by John Tauranac in 1978 is a lot more geographically accurate but looks quite different from the rest of the subway signage. The free flowing lines also add messiness to the overall feeling of the map. This feeling is amplified by the fact that a big portion of the station names are not aligned horizontally. The map shows quite a few street names but not really enough to function as a proper street map. Interestingly the first version of the map showed more street names than the current version does.
The current map also combines trains running along the same trunk route to one single line and specifies which trains stop at each tations below the station names. On one hand this brings clarity especially to Manhattan which would otherwise be full of crisscrossing lines but on the other hand it makes it harder to quickly comprehend which lines run express and which local.