Setting the guidelines - New York Transit Graphic Standards - Maynard
Graphic Standards

Setting the guidelines – New York Transit Graphic Standards

A project is only as good as its Graphic Standards Manual!

The New York City Transit Authority Original guidelines are guidelines as they should be! 

See more photographs of the Original Guides at  as well as an in-depth history

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“Variations on Noorda and Vignelli’s transit work work can be seen all over the planet. Chicago’s signage, Madrid’s map, the graphics in Amsterdam and Sydney and Hong Kong: all are based on two principal influences, London and New York. (Those in Washington, D.C. may seem especially familiar to New Yorkers, because they too were created by Vignelli. There, he got the blank slate he wanted, since the Metro was all-new.) Given the limitations of the New York City transit system, Unimark’s underlying mission — and Hertz’s after that — was to clarify things as much as they could be clarified, and in that they succeeded remarkably.”

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“Not many copies of the first Graphics Standards Manual are known to exist. A few collectors have them, as do the Museum of Modern Art and the New York Transit Museum. In 2011, one showed up in, of all places, a basement locker at the Pentagram design studio, under a pile of someone’s crumpled gym clothes. Two young designers there, Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth, were struck by not only Vignelli and Noorda’s clarity of vision but also the book’s own spare beauty, and built a website to show the manual, page-by-page, to the world. The response among graphic designers, transit enthusiasts, and New Yorkers of all kinds was immediate — more than a million visitors in that first week — and that enthusiasm led to the limited-edition crowdfunded book you hold in your hands.”

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“The particular copy you see here is not the one from Pentagram’s basement but Vignelli’s own, generously lent by his son Luca. The two books differ slightly: For example, in the Pentagram copy, the individual color chips are unmarked, whereas in Vignelli’s, they are printed with PMS numbers. And, on page 45, there’s a little addendum, presumably sketched by the man himself. He’s drawn, in black ink with white overpainting, an icon of an airplane. It was added to the book sometime before September 1978, when a new service to Kennedy International Airport began to run mostly on the A-train line. It was formally called the JFK Express, but if you were watching New York television commercials in those years, you almost certainly remember it from its insistent and memorable jingle: “Take the Train to the Plane! The Train to the Plane!”

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“The Train to the Plane didn’t make it to this century, but Vignelli and Noorda’s flexible, durable design scheme did. By and large, it’s still their thoughtful work that New Yorkers see every day, 40 years’ worth of tweaks and addenda and fixes notwithstanding.”

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Text by Christopher Bonanos