Officially licensed by the MTA and available only through this Kickstarter campaign.
Dedicated to Massimo Vignelli, Bob Noorda, and the Unimark staff.
If you found yourself in the New York City subway in the 1960s, you were probably lost.
Signs didn’t help you find your way, standards didn’t exist, even handmade lettering was common. Mass confusion was the status quo.
In 1970, the Standards Manual changed everything.
In 1967 the New York City Transit Authority hired Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda of the design firm Unimark International to design a signage and wayfinding system that would solve the problem underground.
The work they delivered, the 1970 New York City Transit Authority Graphic Standards Manual, succeeded in that goal and, perhaps unintentionally, the Standards Manual became one of the world’s classic examples of modern design.
“The Standards Manual looks like arcana, and in many ways it is. But it is also an artifact from a really important moment in the history of New York: the point when the city began to realize it couldn’t just take the subway system for granted and focus all its attention on highways and car culture. The enlightenment didn’t come right away—in the 1970s, many things about the subway got worse before they got better—and signs were a small part of that rebirth, but they were a highly visible one."
—Christopher Bonanos, New York magazine.
In 2012—42 years after the Standards Manual was released—we discovered a rare copy in the basement of design firm Pentagram.
Now, under an agreement with the MTA, we are scanning and printing every page in a full-size hardcover book.
After this campaign, this reissue will never become available again.
Full specifications of the reissue.
Printed in Italy.
364 pages with 176 four-color plates.
Plates printed from high-resolution scans of the original Standards Manual.
12 page introduction and essay (1 color).
13.5” W × 13.5" H (343 x 343 mm).
Hardcover with Cialux cloth wrap and foil stamped title on the cover and spine.
Smyth (section) sewn binding.
3 gate folds.
Printed on 100 and 140 gsm Munken Pure ivory offset paper.
White head and tail bands.
Enhanced specs now included thanks you your support:
9 PMS spot colors for the color pages 46-54 in the original.
Hand sewn binding.
(See update #5 for more details on these enhanced specs).
The book is huge.
Section 1 of reissue: Introduction and essay.
Introduction by Michael Bierut.
Michael Bierut is a Partner at the international design consultancy Pentagram. Prior to joining Pentagram in 1990 in the firm's New York office, he worked for ten years under Massimo Vignelli at Vignelli Associates, ultimately as vice president of graphic design.
Michael Bierut is a senior design critic at the Yale School of Art, co-editor of the anthology series Looking Closer: Critical Writings on Graphic Design, published by Allworth Press, and in 1998 he co-edited and designed the monograph Tibor Kalman: Perverse Optimist. He is a co-founder of the weblog Design Observer and his commentaries about graphic design in everyday life can be heard nationally on the Public Radio International program "Studio 360." His book Seventy-nine Short Essays on Design was published by Princeton Architectural Press in 2007.
Essay by Christopher Bonanos.
Chris will be writing a 5000+ word essay on the history of the Standards Manual, including illustrations, interviews with people who worked on the successions to the Standards Manual, and MTA staff.
Section 2: the Standards Manual reproduction.
Each page of the original Standards Manual will be scanned and be offset printed in four colors.
Every page will be included, printed only on the right hand page of the book—consistent with the ring-binder format of the original Standards Manual.
The following images are crops from the trial scans we have conducted. Beyond basic curves adjustments for consistency, the pages will not be altered in any way.
Why is the Standards Manual worth saving?
Every single day, millions of New Yorkers rely on the subway to get around the city, and you can't use the subway without encountering the signage designed by Unimark. Over the years many changes have taken place (such as the switch from Standard Medium to Helvetica), but it is a testament to the quality of the work that, 44 years later, the signage holds up.
What are the differences between the original and the reissue?
The original Standards Manual is held in a 5 ring binder. Each page inside the binder measures 13x13".
The reissue will be Smyth (section) sewn rather than ring bound. Each page will measure 13.5"(343 mm) square, so we can include a 0.25"(6.4mm) border around each scan to ensure we can print the full 13" scan.
After we discovered the Standards Manual and created the website thestandardsmanual.com, we sent it to a few friends and colleagues who we thought would enjoy it.
Within 72 hours, the website was a viral hit with a quarter of a million unique views. But seeing the Standards Manual on screen didn't do it justice. We realized that the only way to truly experience the Standards Manual was full-size in print. We thought there was no better way to share this piece of design history with you than on Kickstarter.
Independently producing the book on Kickstarter allows us to control the production of the book closely, distribute it faster, and keep the cost lower.
Partnership with MTA and Goal.
We have been granted permission by the MTA to reissue the Standards Manual. The copyright to the publication is owned by NYCTA and MTA.
If we are successfully funded, we will be donating 36 copies of the Manual reissue to the New York Transit Museum for storage and preservation.
As graphic designers who have produced books ourselves, we appreciate high-quality publishing and know what it takes to produce a high-quality art book.
The book will be printed in Vicenza, Italy.
Standard Medium font design.
The reissue cover, introduction, and essay headings will be set in a custom version of Standard Medium by type designer Nick Sherman.
Nick painstakingly recreated the font from the photographs we posted on thestandardsmanual.com and has allowed us to use it in the reissue.
We are not altering the scans of the original Standards Manual in any way. We are only typesetting the cover, introduction, and essay in Nick's version of the font.
Thank you for reading. We can't wait to share this book with you.
Risks and challenges
The design of the book itself is fairly straightforward. After scanning each of the pages (which is no small task—we're anticipating it to take 15–20 hours) we will layout the book with InDesign.
From there we move to production, where our biggest risks could potentially exist.
However, having designed and produced many books ourselves, we understand the process well and have already been working closely with printers to iron out any problems they anticipate before production.
We will be reviewing hard copy proofs of every page before printing. When the book is being printed, we will be visiting the printing plant to conduct a press check to ensure the color reproduction is faithful to the original.
This is a big book that is going to take time to print, bind, and finish. We plan on working closely with our printer to ensure the smoothest production possible and, if funded, we plan on updating backers regularly on each step of the process.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter