Kick it into touch

We followed a link recently to an article that interviewed the designer of the NYC Subway map, Michael Hertz. Now we’ll admit to being slightly behind this debate on this side of the pond, but we get the feeling that Hertz’s map is still widely disliked by many people. But it has frustrated nearly everyone by still being there, 30 years later.

Hertz himself obviously prides himself on this and says ‘˜it is a 30 year-old design. This kind of longevity is virtually unheard of in the transit business with the exception of London’.

Ah yes. London. That’s the fly in the ointment here. New York’s closet modernists love to gripe about the fact that they had a design worthy of Harry Beck’s masterpiece in the shape of Vignelli’s 45 degree tour-de-force, but that was chucked out after a decade by the Manhattan Transit Authority (MTA).


Truth is Vignelli’s was a map made for dry mounting and putting on a wall, not being used, but Hertz’s organic monster (recently called a ‘˜mongrel’ by the New York Times) is surely the worst subway map of the world’s great cities. This is its current incarnation. Lovely.


Here’s London’s, as if you needed any reminding.


And Paris.


And Berlin.


And Tokyo. (OK it looks challenging but it does cover a city of 30 million people, and it works).


Luckily Hertz’s proposed re-design of London’s map based on ‘˜modified geography’ has never seen the light of day (we can only guess it would mean something a little like this).


In case you’ve never seen it, London’s map (prior to Beck’s brainwave) was an organic disaster zone too (apologies to any living relatives of its designer, a Mr Fred Stingemore. True).


It seems that Hertz is a little riled by a newcomer to this story, in the shape of the Kick Map, designed by Eddie Jabbour. It looks like this.


And putting the two maps end to end, you can see the difference.


You don’t have to be either a brain surgeon or indeed a map designer to work out which one is doing it for us. And looking at these kind of discussions, a lot of New Yorkers seem to agree.

The main complaint about the proposal seems to be that Jabbour’s design has concentrated on the tube lines and abandoned any real pretence of being a road map of Manhattan at the same time, which might leave people disorientated when leaving a station. But if a medieval city layout like London can survive without a definitive street map, why should Manhattan (based, after all on a grid system) need one? It takes ten seconds at the most to orientate yourself on any Manhattan corner – ever tried working out which exit you need to take at Bank station in London, or Shinjuku? Now that’s difficult.

Of course you have the occasional geographical quirk with simplified maps, such as the two stops on the London map, Charing Cross and Embankment being a couple of hundred yards apart, not the mile it might seem on the map. And there’s the thousands of tourists who diligently change lines to get to Covent Garden not knowing it’s just a minute’s walk from Leicester Square. These are just little design ‘˜trades’ we make in return for clarity.

Apparently the Kick Map has been rejected by the MTA who still say they prefer what they have, clinging on to some weird and rather quaint notion of geographical accuracy. Trouble is they seem to have forgotten that most first time visitors to New York will look at the MTA map, recoil in horror and use the simpler one in their guide book.

We’d take clarity over chaos any day of the week.