Tag Archive for 'aiga'

The Mostly True Story of Helvetica and the New York City Subway

The Most­ly True Sto­ry of Hel­veti­ca and the New York City Sub­way:

There is a com­mon­ly held belief that Hel­veti­ca is the sig­nage type­face of the New York City sub­way sys­tem, a belief rein­forced by Hel­veti­ca, Gary Hustwit’s pop­u­lar 2007 doc­u­men­tary about the type­face. But it is not true—or rather, it is only some­what true. Hel­veti­ca is the offi­cial type­face of the MTA today, but it was not the type­face spec­i­fied by Uni­mark Inter­na­tion­al when it cre­at­ed a new sig­nage sys­tem at the end of the 1960s.

r-train
R-train icon, set in Helvetica and Standard.

I noticed this dis­crep­an­cy ear­li­er this year – I had to recre­ate some MTA sub­way icons for use on a project, and noticed that the R train map icon looked noth­ing like the Hel­veti­ca “R”. The MTA’s own web­site seems to be con­fused about the type used in the sys­tem icons, let alone its sta­tion sig­nage.

Enter typog­ra­ph­er Paul Shaw, and his 10,000+ word piece on AIGA’s site. Did you now that Boston’s sub­way sig­nage sys­tem was the first to use Hel­veti­ca, with­out mod­i­fi­ca­tions? Ever curi­ous as to the process by which enam­el signs are made? Want to just look at pret­ty pic­tures of sub­way signs over the years?

It’s a great his­to­ry, for fans of typog­ra­phy and the MTA.