The 1970 New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual in Modern Art

The subway system of New York City in the 1960’s found millions and millions of the city’s residents lost and wandering around, looking for signs that weren’t there, and trying to navigate a complex structure with absolutely no help or assistance. Wayfinding in the New York underground was a challenge for any and all who attempted it until the great city of New York employed the work of Unimark International, a known design firm, to create an entirely new signage and navigation display system for the city’s subway system.

Specifically, it was Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda who are responsible for the creation of the 1970 New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual.

In current times, this manual is now popularly known not only in the art community but also among the general public as an iconic and heavily influential example of modern design. The signs made with the help of this manual not only made navigating the New York City Subway System miles and miles easier for the millions of city goers who use it every single day, but it also influenced art that existed then and even art that exists now.

Both the creation of this manual and how it affected wayfinding through the subway system electrified a creativity in the minds of young artists and allowed for the birth of so many new avenues of art and expression.

Even to this day, visitors and subway goers will find graffiti painted across various surfaces inside and outside the underground – this is a manifestation of graffiti work that was encouraged by history and, in part, by the creation of the manual. Hip-hop culture is also attributed to the winding ways of the subway system. Indeed, art truly has a peculiar and unique way of influencing histories and cities.

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