September 19, 2014

The latest hit Kickstarter self-publishing project is … a graphic standards manual?


New York City Transit Authority Graphic Standards Manual

When Massimo Vignelli died this spring at the age of 83, the design community lost a legend. Eulogies and remembrances poured out from every corner, as obituaries noted his rigidly modernist vision—”I don’t think that type should be expressive at all,” he said—and the tremendous impact it had on visual culture around the world.

Nowhere was that impact more acutely felt than in New York City, where Vignelli’s design (with Bob Noorda at Unimark International) of the subway signage in 1967 transformed the way New Yorkers navigate the city. What had been a chaotic jumble of signs, maps, typefaces, and colors became a unified system, consistent across every station from the upper reaches of the Bronx to the outer boundary of Queens. The guide Vignelli and Noorda produced—The New York City Transit Authority Graphic Standards Manual—was not only the city’s manual for implementing such a massive graphics scheme, but went on to become one of the most essential documents of modern graphic design. Corporate graphic standards manuals, which hit their stride in the ’60s and ’70s, are a particularly American form of literature, and the NYCTA manual is the canonical expression of the form.

Two years ago, a rare original copy of the Standards Manual was found in a locker in the basement of the design firm Pentagram, and two designers there, Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth, embarked on a project to make the classic text available to all. They photographed every page of the book and created a site,, to house the images.

Now they’ve launched a project to reissue the book in a commemorative edition, at original size and in a hardcover binding. The Kickstarter page, which went live last week, has exceeded its fundraising goal by more than $500,000 at the time of writing, demonstrating the enormous demand among design students and aficionados for a new edition. The book will be produced in cooperation with the NYCTA’s modern descendant, the Metropolitan Transit Authority, and will feature an introduction by the Pentagram partner (and Vignelli protégé) Michael Bierut and an essay by New York‘s Christopher Bonanos.

Below, check out a video in which Bierut discusses the Standards Manual and its lasting significance. The Kickstarter campaign is open for pledges until October 10.

The NYCTA Graphic Standards Manual HD from Hamish Smyth on Vimeo.


Christopher King is the Art Director of Melville House.