Design Communications

NYC Subway Graphic Standards Manual
Becomes Kickstarter Sensation

NYC_Subway_0

More than four decades have gone by since acclaimed designers Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda of Unimark International were hired by the New York Transit Authority (now the MTA) to modernize and unify the look of the subway signage, which by Noorda’s own account “was a mess.” Cluttered with varied typefaces of different sizes and rendered on different materials from mosaic tile to a paper sign stuck to the wall, the old signage system confused more than aided travelers. In its place, Vignelli and Noorda developed a cohesive subway wayfinding system designed to promote intuitive understanding — so much so that they promised: “The passenger will be given information or directions only at the point of decision. Never before. Never after.” It did all that and more. The New York Transit Authority’s wayfinding system is still considered a masterpiece of clarity, logic, consistency, and elegant modernist design.

The accompanying 174-page Graphic Standards Manual was as brilliantly written and produced by Vignelli and Noorda. One day in 2013, two young designers at Pentagram – Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth – stumbled upon an original copy of the manual in the basement of Pentagram’s New York office. The pair found the manual so awesome that they wanted to share it with friends, so they created a dedicated website (thestandardsmanual.com) and posted scanned pages online. The site instantly went viral. Within 72 hours, more than a quarter million people visited the site. Although delighted, Reed and Smyth felt strongly that an on-screen viewing didn’t do justice to the beauty of the real Standards Manual. To truly appreciate it, they felt people should see it full size in print, and they set out to produce a book with an introduction by Vignelli protege and Pentagram partner Michael Bierut and an essay by New York Magazine’s Christopher Bonanos, author of “Instant: The Story of Polaroid”.

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Design Communications

W-a-a-a-y Before Pantone

A fascinating post appeared recently on the Colossal blog about a color matching guide that predates Pantone by well over two centuries. The Dutch color guide, produced in 1692 by a person who identified himself as A. Boogert, was virtually unknown until a Medieval book historian named Erik Kwakkel at Leiden University in The Netherlands happened upon it while looking through a French database. In nearly 800 pages of handwritten Dutch, Boogert meticulously explained how to change the proportion of water and paints to achieve different tones. Along with detailed notations, Boogert individually painted swatches of the exact shade on the facing pages. In his introduction, Boogert said he prepared the book for educational purposes – which would have been a wonderful gift to the arts except that color offset lithography did not exist yet. As far as we know, Boogert was only able to create one copy of his book. Hopefully he was able to share his manual with other Dutch painters in his vicinity. It would be nice to think that Boogert played some small role in making the 17th century “The Golden Age of Dutch Painting.”

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Typography

Grey’s Multinational Typeface

When Grey Group opened a new Singapore division of its ad agency earlier this year, it wanted to communicate that it had assembled a team from a dozen different countries to handle business in 106 national markets. It was truly multinational in every sense of the word. The challenge was how to suggest its global outlook visually without resorting to tedious clichés. Luis Fabra, Grey Singapore’s senior graphic designer, chose the most recognizable symbol of any country – its national flag. From there, he deconstructed each flag into geometric shapes – stripes, dots, triangles, half circles, etc. – and rearranged the color scheme on each flag to form a single letter of the alphabet. Grey Singapore’s multinational typeface actually has 106 letters in the alphabet, with some letters repeated to give each country equal representation. Abstract yet country-specific, the letters in combination suggest a strong communication program that is sensitive to all cultures.

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Viral Marketing

“Cold Call” Marketing

With a wide swath of North America buried in snow and ice, Wax creative agency in Calgary, Canada, adopted a different medium for outdoor advertising — frost. To promote Mucho Burrito restaurants as the place to go for sizzling hot food, Wax created a block stamp that left a message melted into ice-coated car windows. It’s eco-friendly and beats sticking soggy paper flyers under windshield wipers.

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Advertising

And the 2014 Super Bowl Winner Is…GoldieBlox

Unbeknownst to most sports fans was a completely different Super Bowl competition being played out on the sidelines. Sponsored by Intuit, maker of QuickBooks, TurboTax, Intuit and Quicken software, the contest drew 15,000 small business contenders who vied for the chance to win a free 30-second spot during the big game last weekend.

And the Intuit winner was GoldieBlox, a startup that offers construction toys strictly for little girls. A Kickstarter-funded project, GoldieBlox was founded by Debbie Sterling, a Stanford-graduate engineer who was disturbed to learn that 89% of all engineers in America were men. Taking a walk through a toy store, Sterling noted that the “blue aisle” was lined with construction toys and chemistry sets, while the “pink aisle” had lots of princesses and dolls. Sterling vowed to redecorate the “pink aisle” with construction toys to send little girls the message that they could pursue a career in science, engineering, technology ad math too. San Francisco-based Sterling developed an interactive storybook series with a companion construction kit. The book’s heroine is a girl named Goldie who likes to invent mechanical things and seeks the assistance of the young reader to build them using pieces from the project kit.

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Typography

Type in the City

Show Us Your Type is a design project created by Neue, a thrice-yearly online magazine that focuses on two things that the Neue founders say they “adore” – typography and cities. Each issue is about a different capital city, and designers are invited to submit their interpretation of the chosen city through posters that are primarily typographic. It is interesting to note what each artist sees as iconic of the culture. To look at a broader selection, go to showusyourtype.com.

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Packaging

Ricola Sore Throat Relief With a Twist

Have a sore throat? Can’t swallow without wincing? Hard to talk, much less sing? The packaging of Ricola Herbal Throat Lozenges understands. The Ricola Music Edition product wrappers, created by Hamburg-based ad agency Jung von Matt, with illustrations by Julian Canaveses, features distressed singers who represent different styles of music, from pop and opera to rap and rock ‘n roll. It’s possible to recognize Luciano Pavarotti and Elvis Presley, but not sure about the others. The tagline “Unwrap Your Voice” implies quick relief. No need to read the small print about what soothing ingredients are inside. One look at the pictures tells consumers that Ricola knows what a sore throat feels like and that relief is just a twist away.

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Architecture

Oberhausen’s Slinky Springs Bridge

If this bridge in Oberhausen, Germany, reminds you of a slinky toy, that’s exactly what inspired it. German artist Tobias Rehberger spiraled 496 coils around a rainbow colored walkway that crosses over a canal to connect two existing parks. Rehberger collaborated with structural engineers Schlaich Bergermann and Partner to realize his design. The structure consists of pre-cast concrete plates, spiral bars and railing made of steel and net cable, all attached to high-strength steel stress ribbons connected to the inclined supports on both sides of the canal. The 1,332 foot walkway has a synthetic finish that kind of bounces when you walk. It is presented in 16 different colors, matched in color on the underside of the bridge which is made out of a different material. The Slinky Bridge is luminous with color and definitely puts a spring in your walk.

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Publishing

Books That Make You Feel

Tamaki Covers

Aside from the fact that these are charming images embroidered by New York-based illustrator Jillian Tamaki, the covers of Penguin Threads Classics signal yet another move to define non-electronic publishing as more than a vehicle for communications. Traditional publishers can no longer assume that readers will stay loyal to print because e-books are harder to read due to screen glare, not offered in full-color, crippled by short battery life, limited in availability of subjects and titles, etc. Over the past year, the iPad, Kindle, Nook and other e-readers have proved otherwise, and are getting better with each iteration.

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