The Diagram Decades of the New York City Subway Map
The Diagram Decades of the New York City Subway Map
The Diagram Decades of the New York City Subway Map (covering 1958 to 79): a trilogy of fully researched and richly illustrated books.
The Diagram Decades of the New York City Subway Map (covering 1958 to 79): a trilogy of fully researched and richly illustrated books. Read more
About this project
Millions of people see the subway map on the platforms and entrances of stations, or on folded pocket sheets, or in smartphone apps. Who stops and wonders, "Who did this?" or "Why does the map look like this?" ...
This series of books answers those questions.
New York City's Subway System is the biggest and most complex transit operation that humankind has ever devised, and the subway map is the primary means of navigating it. But mapping this network of services is a seemingly insoluble problem of information design.
Its history is paved with conflicting visions and theories of what makes a good map. As the city changes, as society transforms, as graphic design evolves, so the subway map morphs into different forms and styles.
I started by collecting old subway maps, and found myself digging deeper, sifting museum archives, tracking down and interviewing the protagonists of this intricate story.
As more material came to light, the process of writing it all up elaborated itself from a journal article to a book, and now a set of three trilogies of books: nine volumes spanning the decades from 1875 to the present day.
One small volume was published by an academic press in 2012. Vignelli: Transit Maps was the first book-length study of Massimo Vignelli's contribution to the design of transit maps. This was successful and well reviewed, but RIT - which houses the Vignelli Archives - was interested only in publishing a book on Vignelli's maps - which was an exciting but short episode in the adventure of the map - and not the rest of the map's long history.
Some excerpts from reviews of my first book, Vignelli: Transit Maps:
- "The task of historians goes beyond the limits of historical chronology and involves a great deal of research to provide the clues of what really happened. The enormous work of separating legend from facts and facts from secondhand accounts ... Here is really where Peter Lloyd fulfills his task as historian: listening, interpreting, reporting and reconstructing events which have sometimes been forgotten or have vanished in the folds of time. ... No one could have done this better than Peter Lloyd, whose attention to detail and insatiable curiosity have made this history clear." Massimo Vignelli, Introduction
- "This book is sweet revenge for the graphic designers who still venerate the Vignelli version. Subway buffs will relish Mr. Lloyd's guided tour through the intricacies of mapmaking and the egos of various cartographers." Sam Roberts inThe New York Times
- "Fuelled by excellent research and interviews, and presented with beautiful (if occasionally a little small) maps, photos and illustrations, (...) This book is absolutely essential for any lover or student of transit maps or graphic design. It's well written, thoroughly researched and beautiful to look at: what more do you need? Five stars!" Cameron Booth (@transitmaps)
- "Students of graphic design history will discover a great deal. Lloyd describes the map's development with an acute and painstaking sense of detail, and uses first-hand interviews, particularly with Vignelli and his protege Joan Charysyn at Unimark, to deliver a compelling, journalistic storyline." Dr Nick Hankins, in The Brown Book, Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford
- "Vignelli: Transit Maps provides fascinating, detailed historical narrative. The authors, along with Massimo Vignelli himself, describe the visual, functional, social, political, and economic factors that influenced the design. After thirty years, it delivers a new redesign effort based on the classic Vignelli diagram. Professionals and students should find value in the discussion of how to develop such a diagram." Aaron Marcus, Information Design Journal
- "I thinkVignelli Transit Maps is a nice companion to the 2007 work Transit Maps of the World. The former will give you some of the tools to help understand the thoughts that went into some of the latter. I picked up my copy of Vignelli second-hand for much less than the Amazon price, but I would say it's worth it if subway maps are an interest of yours." Andrew Smith, Seattle Transit Blog
Mainstream publishers see the history of the subway map as being too much of niche market. They don't believe it's possible to sell enough thousands of copies to cover the cost of producing detailed, highly illustrated books. But I didn't want to see this tranche of the history of graphic design simply slide into oblivion. What to do?
I decided to self-publish the books, and to invite the Kickstarter community to provide the funds needed to produce and print a series of high-quality books.
The first serious maps of the New York Subway were drawn by the Rapid Transit Commission in 1875, so I took that as my starting point. I then divided up the remaining years according to major changes in the map.
TRILOGY II (Volumes 4, 5, and 6)
- Volume 4: Modernism on the Tracks (1958-1969) opens up the 'Diagram Decades', with George Salomon's modernist diagram of the subway, the introduction of color-coding by routes using Raleigh D'Adamo's concept, the development of full prototypes by Stanley Goldstein, and the fragmentation of the modernist dream by J.H. Adler in the 1967 map.
- Volume 5: Make Straight the Way (1972-1978) examines the most famous subway map, the minimalist design of Massimo Vignelli. Albeit anachronistically, this book also covers the revival of the Vignelli map after 2008. This is an expanded and extensively rewritten second edition of Vignelli: Transit Maps.
- Volume 6: Geography Bites Back (1979) examines the work of the Subway Map Committee chaired by Fred Wilkinson and latterly John Tauranac, which sank the Vignelli map and launched a new geographic map.
Only the middle trilogy, Volumes 4 to 6, are being funded by this Kickstarter campaign. The full sequence of volume is listed in my blog. If this succeeds, then we will come back to seek funding for the other books in the series. You can select to buy either one of the three books on its own, or all three books. These hardback editions will be printed only for this Kickstarter campaign. If the book is ever reprinted, it will be a paperback. Additional Kickstarter awards are available in the form of specially printed transit maps, which are not available anywhere else.
Why are we starting in the middle of the nine volumes? Partly because a lot of changes happened in this period - the 'Diagram Decades' - and partly because most of the protagonists are still with us. Sadly Massimo Vignelli died not long after my interviews with him.
Each of these books will contain about 150 pages and about 300 illustrations. Each volume will include full-page images of each edition of the official subway map from that period. The books thus provide a definitive reference for the maps, as well as in-depth background information.
The text is based on an collation of archival research, plus historical maps and documents acquired on the open market, or borrowed from individuals who retained original contemporary documents, plus recorded interviews with the people actually involved.
- For Volume 4, I interviewed Mathilde Salomon, Frank Salomom, and Richard Salomon (family of the late George Salomon); Mayer Horn (co-founder of Campaign for Better Transit, 1962); Raleigh D'Adamo and Harris Schechtman (entrants in the 1964 map contest); Stanley Goldstein (consultant on the 1967 map); Don Harold (former TA official).
- For Volume 5, I interviewed Massimo Vignelli, Joan Charysyn, Yoshiki Waterhouse, Beatriz Cifuentes, Michael Donovan, Marge Levin nee Katz (Unimark / Vignelli Associates); Lance Wyman; Eddie Jabbour (Kick Design).
- For volume 6, I interviewed John Tauranac, Arline Bronzaft, Joseph D Korman, Kevin Doherty, Alex Friedlander, Dean McChesney (MTA Subway Map Committee); Alicia Martinez, Mark Heavey, and Chuck Gordanier (MTA Marketing); Mike Hertz, Peter Joseph, and Nobu Siraisi (Michael Hertz Associates); Aaron Marcus and Peter Laundy (collaborators on Masscom / Masstrans); Benjamin Blom (Cityana Gallery).
The research project started in 2004, and had to be done in my spare time fitted around my day-job in software development. I now have have an opportunity to work full-time on compiling this material into a finished product, with the assistance of Reka Komoli - photographer, graphic designer, and book designer.
Although the books are now fully researched and more than three-quarters written, much work remains: to lay out the book pages, and go through the quality-control processes of copy-editing, proof-reading, indexing, fact checking, and reference checking. The funds are needed for all the production processes necessary for a fully documented and illustrated book, plus licence fees for reproducing copyright material, and finally printing and distribution. The books will be printed in hard covers, under the imprint Apollo's Books.
Besides my own experience in writing the RIT book, Vignelli: Transit Maps, and Reka Komoli's experience in the full range of Adobe tools, we are are also consulting with Dr Maxwell Roberts of the University of Essex, who successfully self-published the high-quality book Underground Maps Unravelled, and Mark Ovenden FRGS, author of the best-selling reference book, Transit Maps of the World. Together we have a dream team to push this project through to the delivery of a beautiful set of books that fully documents the most tumultuous period in the history of the subway map of one of the biggest and most complicated transit systems on the planet.
I hope you will be able to support this Kickstarter campaign and help make this happen. You can follow the progress of the project through my blog.
Risks and challenges
I have thoroughly researched the subject-matter of these three books over a number of years. The information has been collected and collated, maps collected and scanned at high resolution, the photographs digitised from archival prints or taken afresh by the team.
The tasks remaining are:
1. Complete the writing. Volumes 4 and 5 are about 50% done, while volume 6 is essentially 100% done.
2. Preparation of visuals: scanning, colour correcting, trimming.
3. Book design and layout.
With so many labour-intensive actions, undoubtedly the biggest risk is over-run of time. The second biggest is over-run of cost in the printing.
The solution to (or rather prevention of) time-overrun is firm process control: determine a plausible project plan and enforce it rigorously. Cost over-run in printing is less likely, and can be resolved only by cutting back on the book.
Dr Maxwell Roberts has personally written, designed, laid out, published, printed, and distributed 2000 copies of his book, and is thoroughly familiar with the process, time-scale, and costs of all aspects of the production and quality control process.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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