Through New Year's Day, Ad Age will be counting down the 30 best campaigns and brand ideas of the year.
No. 22: An elegant solution to a decades-long design problem. Work & Co. reconceived the New York MTA’s subway map for the digital age with an interactive interface that combined the modernist simplicity of Massimo Vignelli’s 1972 concept with the information-rich system later conceived by Michael Hertz. The agency also tapped director Gary Hustwit, known for his acclaimed design-focused documentaries like “Helvetica” and “Objectified,” to capture the process.
Today, the New York MTA updated its iconic subway map for the digital age in its first major design overhaul in 40 years. The organization worked with agency Work & Co and the Transit Innovation Partnership, a public-private partnership between the MTA and the partnership for New York City, to create the new real-time visualization of the public transport system.
In a remarkable design feat, the “live” map builds off the original's rich, yet controversial design history, which saw conflict between the spare, modernist version conceived by Italian designer Massimo Vignelli in 1972 and the more accurate and information-rich rendering subsequently created by designer Michael Hertz.
To document the efforts, the MTA and Work & Co. tapped documentary filmmaker Gary Hustwit (“Helvetica,” “Objectified” ), to direct the short film "The Map." It captures the process of the map's creation and how modern-day technology has allowed the new version to incorporate the best of previous designs, rendering creative conflicts of the past practically moot.
On the surface, the new map reflects Vignelli’s sleek modernism, but when users zoom in, they’ll find all the rich content provided by Hertz’s concept. Add to that real-time data informing users of service changes as well as visualizations of where trains are at any given moment, across 425 stops and 26 different lines.
“The live map lets you ignore the fight, move past the fight,” says MTA Director of Digital Customer of Experience Josh Gee in the film. “The fight’s a fight for when we didn’t have the technology.”