Okay, I’ll admit it. I’m a freak about typography. I love well used type. Okay, I’ll admit it. I am also a transportation freak. I love a beautifully designed transit system. While I’m confessing, I’ll admit it: I almost changed my undergraduate major to graphic design and urban planning. Maybe if they had had a joint program…
Well, today I got the closest thing: Paul Shaw’s AIGA article on the history of typography and the NYC subway system. Entitled The (Mostly) True Story of Helvetica and the New York City Subway, Shaw blends a beautiful history of fonts, signs, and the complicated birth of the modern NYC subway system.
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. Why was Helvetica not chosen originally? What was chosen in its place? Why is Helvetica used now, and when did the changeover occur? To answer those questions this essay explores several important histories: of the New York City subway system, transportation signage in the 1960s, Unimark International and, of course, Helvetica.
It’s been a long day – you enjoy a treat. Read it here.