Because New York’s subway is about moving so many different types of people—locals, tourists and everyone in between—the thought of landmarks is crucial and helped lead the 1979 version, even though clarity becomes a hot commodity.
“It is a very delicate balance,” he says. “There are certain landmarks that literally mark the land. The Empire State Building is visible from so many different neighborhoods. I think places like that are important, however, how do you depict it on a map? Do you just put a circle and say the Empire State Building is here? A schematic map is purely a transit map. You play god when you make a map. There is a degree of truth to it, so on the geographic map I did put in every hospital, college, university or major cultural institution.”
Of course, even a diehard geographic map-lover such as Tauranac sees the style and allure of the schematic design, which is why he released his own hybrid version of the two in 2009. While not the official version, such as the one still in use—despite some tweaking—from 1979, he is trying to weigh the good and the bad of each design, but still leave New York’s tourist-friendly map intact during the process.
Vignelli says that most major cities have diagrams and those are “by far” superior designs. “It is the proper way to do it,” he says from his New York office. “You have to be a moron to do anything else. A subway map is a subway map. To try to put five pounds into a one-pound bag … it doesn’t hold it, which is exactly what happened in New York. Maybe it works, but it is certainly ugly.”
Vignelli adds that conveying how to go from station A to station B is the point of a transit diagram. Any necessary tourist information will appear on different maps.
And that is where Vignelli and Tauranac have chosen to disagree for so long. Tauranac wants to give direction beyond the subway. “I’m empathetic to tourists, to visitors, to the sometime user of the subway,” he says. “Nothing is worse than thinking you are on the wrong train in the wrong direction. It is an awful sensation.”
So landmarks it is. In New York.
Lance Wyman is proud of his work. He should be. The diagram he did for the D.C. Metro in 1976 is still in use today.
The New York-style debate of diagram versus geographic map wasn’t even an issue in Washington, D.C. With Vignelli part of the master planning, the diagram choice was the first and only option. What did get a lot of debate—but didn’t go through—was to give each line its own historic icon. Wyman says that had they pulled it off, the D.C. map would have been even more unique than it already is.
But he was able to move his icons into the off-track portion of the diagram, using them to depict major landmarks within the Mall, giving “a sense of orientation for the city around the Mall.” It has a geographic feel, but still within the geometric style of a schematic diagram.
“That was one of the biggest struggles,” Wyman says about trying to depict the historical markers within the city while still balancing out the parts of the Metro that are outside the city. “It wasn’t easy keeping it balanced. I had to work very carefully to keep it diagrammatic. The bottom line is to keep it as clear as possible where stations are relative to each other on the lines.”
Wyman says he had to push for a bit of balance away from just a pure diagram, such as the one Vignelli was pushing for, because it was simply too “confusing” with a lack of information. “You have to give a sense of information without losing (the station depictions).”
Wyman kept a natural relationship with the outside world, using light blue for water and light green for parks, which allowed the white icons to work themselves into the diagram. Then he played with geometry, keeping the lines on 45-degree angles where possible.
The lines’ color-coding system helped keep the diagram clean and he developed larger circles to mark interchange stations, another clean move full of information.
His clean, informative hybrid creation is still in use today. “It is a very nice feeling,” Wyman admits. “In doing this type of work where you are putting it out in the environment where it is used on a daily basis, this is the very best reward.”