In 1972, Massimo Vignelli designed a diagrammatic map for the New York City subway. It was a radical departure. He replaced the serpentine maze of geographically accurate train routes with simple, bold bands of color that turned at 45- and 90-degree angles. Each route was color-coded, its stops indicated by black dots. Its abstract representation of the routes was elegant but flawed. To make the map function effectively, a few geographic liberties were taken, something that didn’t sit well with New Yorkers.
For instance, the new map showed Central Park as a square; Vignelli reasoned that for people riding underground, the park’s rectangular proportions were irrelevant. Along Central Park West there are fewer stops than in Midtown, so logic dictated that less map space was required. Vignelli was absolutely right, but New Yorkers did not care about such nuances. They wanted their rectangle back, and other geographical details too. Dissatisfaction was palpable, and in 1979 the map was replaced.
Still, the Vignelli map refused to vanish. It was included in the design collection of the Museum of Modern Art, featured in exhibitions and analyzed in history books. In 2008, Vignelli was even asked to create a limited-edition version, which sold out almost immediately. Then last year, Jay Walder, the head of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (who is leaving his post at the end of the year), asked Vignelli to revise his 1972 map for the M.T.A.’s The Weekender Web site, which informs the public of weekend service changes caused by maintenance projects. How sweet the irony!