The Weekender: M.T.A.’s Graphic Design Solution
September 28, 2011
If you live in New York, or even if you’re visiting the city, it’s likely that your experience with the subway includes unexpectedly rerouted trains, confusing, text-heavy signs, taped off stations, and other reasons to roll your eyes or let out an expletive. And with so much planned work on the weekends, you might as well stay at home to keep blood pressure low on your days off.
Well, it’s about time we all exclaimed “I’m mad as hell and I can’t take it anymore!” The New York Times Magazine recently enlightened us about the new Weekender website, an elegantly designed digital solution to some of New York’s public transportation woes. Better yet, the story behind the Weekender is a wonderful segment of graphic design history. Click to learn more!
The Weekender site boasts an interactive map that can be clicked, zoomed, panned and expanded to see live updates on weekend service interruption. Blinking dots and shaded lines grab your attention and graphically indicate planned work.
To produce the refined and coherent graphic, M.T.A. sought out Massimo Vignelli, the designer of the 1972 New York subway map. The Times explained how this iconic map has lived on in design exhibitions more so than in local New York history. At the time, Vignelli’s new representation of the subway system was revolutionary, replacing the previous chart of meandering, geographically accurate train routes with a simplified graphic made of bold bands of color with angled, beveled edges.
Vignelli’s abstract representation skewed geographic details to create a more functional product. Of the more notable adjustments, the reduction of Central Park from a rectangle into a square and the shrinking of Midtown West, an area with fewer subway stops, did not bode well with the New Yorkers of the 70s. Vignelli argued that above ground geographies did not need to be accurate, as they may obscure our grasp of our below ground experience. Apparently too far ahead of its time, the map was replaced in 1979 with one that retained more geographic accuracy.
Today, Vignelli’s design ideas seem incredibly relevant, especially on a digital platform. For the revised map on the Weekender Website, Vignelli and his team removed even more geographic details, using basic white shapes on pale gray to describe the boroughs, and notably leaving out parks. One could almost forget that a river separates Manhattan from Brooklyn and Queens. And as an inter-borough commuter, that is actually something I do forget as soon as I push through the station turnstile. What do I remember? To stay off the E train this week, too much planned work.