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Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story

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Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story Cover

ISBN13: 9780262015486
ISBN10: 026201548x
Condition: Standard
Dustjacket: Less Than Standard
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Staff Pick

I think Paul Shaw is a genius, but perhaps you disagree.

His website's marvelously pedantic Blue Pencil series can have a polarizing effect on readers, and I wouldn't blame those who are quickly overwhelmed with the point-by-point exploration of typographical errata. Whether you love him or can't stand the man, when it comes to Helvetica and the New York City subway system, there's no denying that this meticulous design historian has created an engaging portrait of a national landmark and its complex relationship with type.
Recommended by The Dot, Powells.com

Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

andlt;Pandgt;For years, the signs in the New York City subway system were a bewildering hodge-podge of lettering styles, sizes, shapes, materials, colors, and messages. The original mosaics (dating from as early as 1904), displaying a variety of serif and sans serif letters and decorative elements, were supplemented by signs in terracotta and cut stone. Over the years, enamel signs identifying stations and warning riders not to spit, smoke, or cross the tracks were added to the mix. Efforts to untangle this visual mess began in the mid-1960s, when the city transit authority hired the design firm Unimark International to create a clear and consistent sign system. We can see the results today in the white-on-black signs throughout the subway system, displaying station names, directions, and instructions in crisp Helvetica. This book tells the story of how typographic order triumphed over chaos. The process didn't go smoothly or quickly. At one point New York Times architecture writer Paul Goldberger declared that the signs were so confusing one almost wished that they weren't there at all. Legend has it that Helvetica came in and vanquished the competition. Paul Shaw shows that it didn't happen that way--that, in fact, for various reasons (expense, the limitations of the transit authority sign shop), the typeface overhaul of the 1960s began not with Helvetica but with its forebear, Standard (AKA Akzidenz Grotesk). It wasn't until the 1980s and 1990s that Helvetica became ubiquitous. Shaw describes the slow typographic changeover (supplementing his text with more than 250 images--photographs, sketches, type samples, and documents). He places this signage evolution in the context of the history of the New York City subway system, of 1960s transportation signage, of Unimark International, and of Helvetica itself. andlt;/Pandgt;

Synopsis:

one-liner: How New York City subway signage evolved from a "visual mess" to a uniform system with Helvetica triumphant.

Synopsis:

andlt;Pandgt;How New York City subways signage evolved from a andquot;visual messandquot; to a uniform system with Helvetica triumphant.andlt;/Pandgt;

Synopsis:

How New York City subways signage evolved from a "visual mess" to a uniform system with Helvetica triumphant.

Synopsis:

For years, the signs in the New York City subway system were a bewildering hodge-podge of lettering styles, sizes, shapes, materials, colors, and messages. The original mosaics (dating from as early as 1904), displaying a variety of serif and sans serif letters and decorative elements, were supplemented by signs in terracotta and cut stone. Over the years, enamel signs identifying stations and warning riders not to spit, smoke, or cross the tracks were added to the mix. Efforts to untangle this visual mess began in the mid-1960s, when the city transit authority hired the design firm Unimark International to create a clear and consistent sign system. We can see the results today in the white-on-black signs throughout the subway system, displaying station names, directions, and instructions in crisp Helvetica. This book tells the story of how typographic order triumphed over chaos. The process didn't go smoothly or quickly. At one point New York Times architecture writer Paul Goldberger declared that the signs were so confusing one almost wished that they weren't there at all. Legend has it that Helvetica came in and vanquished the competition. Paul Shaw shows that it didn't happen that way--that, in fact, for various reasons (expense, the limitations of the transit authority sign shop), the typeface overhaul of the 1960s began not with Helvetica but with its forebear, Standard (AKA Akzidenz Grotesk). It wasn't until the 1980s and 1990s that Helvetica became ubiquitous. Shaw describes the slow typographic changeover (supplementing his text with more than 250 images--photographs, sketches, type samples, and documents). He places this signage evolution in the context of the history of the New York City subway system, of 1960s transportation signage, of Unimark International, and of Helvetica itself.

About the Author

Paul Shaw, an award-winning graphic designer, typographer,and calligrapher in New York City, teaches at Parsons School of Design and theSchool of Visual Arts. He is the coauthor of Blackletter: Type andNational Identity and writes about letter design in the blog BluePencil.

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 1 comment:

MK914, January 1, 2012 (view all comments by MK914)
A very readable account of a "case history" or signage design, focused on the typeface used throughout the NY Subway system.
Was this comment helpful? | Yes | No

Product Details

ISBN:
9780262015486
Author:
Shaw, Paul
Publisher:
MIT Press (MA)
Author:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Author:
Kosofsky, Scott-Martin
Location:
Cambridge
Subject:
General-General
Copyright:
Series:
Helvetica and the New York City Subway System
Publication Date:
20110211
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
from 17
Language:
English
Illustrations:
273 color illus.
Pages:
144
Dimensions:
9.5 x 11 in

Related Subjects

Arts and Entertainment » Art » Design History
Arts and Entertainment » Art » Typography
Business » General
History and Social Science » Politics » General
History and Social Science » World History » General
Reference » Science Reference » Philosophy of Science
Transportation » Automotive » General

Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story Used Hardcover
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$26.00 In Stock
Product details 144 pages MIT Press (MA) - English 9780262015486 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

I think Paul Shaw is a genius, but perhaps you disagree.

His website's marvelously pedantic Blue Pencil series can have a polarizing effect on readers, and I wouldn't blame those who are quickly overwhelmed with the point-by-point exploration of typographical errata. Whether you love him or can't stand the man, when it comes to Helvetica and the New York City subway system, there's no denying that this meticulous design historian has created an engaging portrait of a national landmark and its complex relationship with type.

"Synopsis" by , one-liner: How New York City subway signage evolved from a "visual mess" to a uniform system with Helvetica triumphant.
"Synopsis" by , andlt;Pandgt;How New York City subways signage evolved from a andquot;visual messandquot; to a uniform system with Helvetica triumphant.andlt;/Pandgt;
"Synopsis" by , How New York City subways signage evolved from a "visual mess" to a uniform system with Helvetica triumphant.
"Synopsis" by , For years, the signs in the New York City subway system were a bewildering hodge-podge of lettering styles, sizes, shapes, materials, colors, and messages. The original mosaics (dating from as early as 1904), displaying a variety of serif and sans serif letters and decorative elements, were supplemented by signs in terracotta and cut stone. Over the years, enamel signs identifying stations and warning riders not to spit, smoke, or cross the tracks were added to the mix. Efforts to untangle this visual mess began in the mid-1960s, when the city transit authority hired the design firm Unimark International to create a clear and consistent sign system. We can see the results today in the white-on-black signs throughout the subway system, displaying station names, directions, and instructions in crisp Helvetica. This book tells the story of how typographic order triumphed over chaos. The process didn't go smoothly or quickly. At one point New York Times architecture writer Paul Goldberger declared that the signs were so confusing one almost wished that they weren't there at all. Legend has it that Helvetica came in and vanquished the competition. Paul Shaw shows that it didn't happen that way--that, in fact, for various reasons (expense, the limitations of the transit authority sign shop), the typeface overhaul of the 1960s began not with Helvetica but with its forebear, Standard (AKA Akzidenz Grotesk). It wasn't until the 1980s and 1990s that Helvetica became ubiquitous. Shaw describes the slow typographic changeover (supplementing his text with more than 250 images--photographs, sketches, type samples, and documents). He places this signage evolution in the context of the history of the New York City subway system, of 1960s transportation signage, of Unimark International, and of Helvetica itself.
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