Paul Shaw responds.
Paul Shaw responds to my write-up of the AIGA Subway event with Vignelli and Hertz.
Thanks for praising my book and writing up the AIGA NY Subway Event evening. But you should know that the only person on stage that night who worked for the MTA was Doris Halle. Michael Hertz has never been an MTA (or NYCTA) employee. He has run his own design studio since the early 1970s (or maybe it is late 1960s — he does not have a website for himself or his firm). He has designed maps not only for the New York subway system but for the Washington Metro system, the city of Houston, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Atlanta Olympics and others. The current subway map is not his doing. It is indeed based on the 1979 map which he designed based on the desires of the map committee chaired by John Tauranac which included citizens, MTA staff, psychologists and others. The idea for the map was not Hertz’s but members of the committee who disliked the Vignelli map from day one. This whole history will be made public in 2011 when Peter Lloyd and Mark Ovenden’s book on the history of New York subway maps is published. The story is much more complicated than what I have said here or what you will read online. I do not even know all of the details, only what Peter has let slip.
But I say all of this not to defend the 1979 (even though it is much more functional than the Vignelli one) but to point out that Hertz is not some MTA bureaucrat or some hack designer. He and Vignelli have legitimate philosophical debates about what a map should do and how that should be done. But that is different from the debates over aesthetics that tend to colorize discussions of the two major New York subway maps.
I hope you are no longer depressed by the AIGA NY evening. The news that clients fuck up great design solutions is nothing new. What is new here is that the secret we all know is not only out in the open but that the process has, to an extent, been laid bare. And the good news is that great design often survives bad clients, even if it is no longer in its original pristine form.
Finally, about Massimo’s lament that he was not asked to redesign his own work, I think there are several reasons: 1. he may have been too expensive, 2. since there were complaints about what he did it was unlikely he would be asked to fix his own work (and that if he was asked he would probably have been very defensive and turned down the offer since the MTA’s views would have clashed with his), and 3. the bureaucrats may have totally forgotten who did the work originally (remember that there is turnover in such agencies and that the people are not design-oriented; Vignelli is not famous to them. All they know is the map or the signs or whatever.).
All the best and thanks for buying a copy of the book (and Jan’s book as well).