1972 NYC Subway Map

On August 2, 1972, the Metropolitan Transit Authority of New York City introduced a new map of the city’s subway system. Although initially met with skepticism and vitriol from local commuters, this map has grown to be loved by designers and users all around the world (Rawsthorn). 

This map of the New York City Subway system, influenced by the diagram-esque London Underground map designed by Harry Beck in 1931, uses bright, vivid colors for the rail lines, dull beiges and grays for the geography, and only uses 45 and 90 degree angles to show how the rail lines intersect (Boekbinder). This angular approach to map design was confusing to many local citizens at the time, but many designers have praised it for its simplicity in trying to show riders the direction of and correlation between rail lines. 

Alas, the public’s outcry against this map was finally heard by the Metropolitan Transit Authority and a more geographically accurate map replaced Vignelli’s iconic design in 1979 (“Vintage Massimo Vignelli Subway Map”). Vignelli’s vibrant and unique map, although confusing to locals who prided themselves on knowing the geography of New York City, provided both outsiders and city-dwellers alike a chance to learn and interpret the routes of the city’s subway system in a linear and visually simplified way. Many attribute the map’s failings at the time to it being different from the “mental map” that many citizens had in their heads of the city (Boekbinder). 

Although the map failed to catch on during its initial lifespan, this map has become iconic within the graphic design community for its unique approach to map design and for its ingenious use of shape and angularity in its geometric approach that attempted to simplify geographic complexity.

Works Cited

Boekbinder, James Michael. “What Massimo Vignelli’s Failed 1972 Subway Map Can Still Teach Us.” Medium, Medium, 30 Sept. 2019, medium.com/@james_96946/what-massimo-vignellis-failed-1972-subway-map-can-still-teach-us-322595c9a293. 


Rawsthorn, Alice. “The Subway Map That Rattled New Yorkers.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 5 Aug. 2012, www.nytimes.com/2012/08/06/arts/design/the-subway-map-that-rattled-new-yorkers.html. 

Ugc. “Vintage Massimo Vignelli Subway Map.” Atlas Obscura, Atlas Obscura, 14 Nov. 2017, www.atlasobscura.com/places/vintage-massimo-vignelli-subway-map.