Almost everyone involved in the design think that the signaling standardized meter New York It is entirely made in Helvetica. This generalized thought takes much more force after viewing the recent and great documentary "Helvetica, the movie" where it is exposed as an absolute truth that signaling of the NY subway is made entirely in Helvetica.
A recent study by Paul shaw for the Aiga denies these claims and makes a magnificent journey through the history typographic of the New York suburban.
Anyone who has visited New York you can see the labyrinthine madness of traveling through it. This complexity is due, among other things, to the fact that initially the system was made up of several independent rail systems depending on the neighborhood.
The first signs were created by Heins & LaFarge architects in 1908 of one of the systems (IRT), which created signaling in the form of mosaics with tiles. Throughout the years until about 1950 this type of signaling with enough typographic variety.
In the 50s, signs with porcelain designs o on metal plates with paint applied by hand using mainly black and white. Directional and indicator signals were added señales with prohibitions, such as no smoking or prohibited animals.
Reach order out of chaos.
All the chaos that was emerging was finally spotted and a proposal of George salomon, typographer and designer in Appleton, Parsons & Co. which he made a manual in which he mainly tried to unify all that using on a black background and highlighting colors the typeface that he considered the most legible of the moment Future Demibold. His own manual made from the study indicated that these changes had to be made quickly for the good of metro users.
Of all the ideas of the visionary Salomon, only one proposal he made for the map was taken seriously.
Signaling in the years 60
During the sixties all the suburbanites of the world, especially the Europeans, began to carry out a redesign of your signaling and to put aside all the chaos that had been accumulating.
The main example of this 180 degree change was that of the city of Milan in which Helvetica was used for the first time. For the subway Paris, Adrian frutiger made a custom-made “metro” typeface based on the well-known univers.
In 1965, Massimo Vignelli, moved from Milan to New York to work in Unimark International the one that finally and after the recommendation of the MoMa was selected for the redesign of the image of the metro.
These attempted at first to include Helvetica for signaling, but without any apparent sense the use of typography for this purpose was not accepted. (in the Helvetica movie we can see the history by Helvetica Juggernaut that develops the subject a lot).
Due to all the problems that there were when trying to get the permits to implement it, finally the Unimark company supported by the heavyweight Bob noorda decided to use Standard against Vignelli who supported the great virtues of Helvetica. Years later they had the opportunity to exchange it for Helvetica but reportedly they were so busy controlling productions and placements in the spaces who did not have time to correctly select the font to use.
The seventies and graffiti
The explosion of graffiti in the New York subway was a trend that greatly concerned Vignelli for distorted what was his signaling which was based on a white background.
In order to combat this and to add extra legibility it was decided to invert the colors of the signaling a white typeface on black background. Helvetica was incorporated.
Supposedly this typeface should be respected as the final and unique form of signaling for the metro, all this information would be collected in a manual which No. it was strictly respected with the passing years.