Brain Pickings

The Almost True Story of NYC’s Subway Helvetica

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We have a soft spot for subway design and NYC urban typography. Not to mention Helvetica. So we’re all over Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story — an ambitious and fascinating survey of the distinctive lettering in NYC’s underground from MIT Press, telling the story of how typographic order triumphed over chaos.

The story begins with the ornate original mosaics, dating as far back as 1904, and their tangled mess of serifs, sans-serifs and various decorative elements that amounted to visual cacophony of the most overwhelming kind. So much so that in the 1960s, the city transit authority hired a design firm to overhaul the signage with more consistent typography, but the effort didn’t garner the public acclaim it had aimed for. In fact, iconic New York Times architecture critic Paul Goldberger famously wrote that the city would be better off if the signs weren’t there at all. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that Helvetica became ubiquitous, but what happened in those interim years has been the subject of much speculation and urban mythology.

Some images via MyFonts

In Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story, graphic designer and calligrapher Paul Shaw unravels this fascinating typographic changeover in an absorbing narrative augmented with over 250 photographs, sketches, type samples and original documents. As much a design treat as it is an exercise in understanding the fickleness of urbanism, the book is an esoteric gem of the shiniest kind.

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Paola Antonelli on What Makes Good Design

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We adore “curious octopus” Paola Antonelli, MoMA’s remarkable curator of architecture and design, and one of the great creative visionaries of our time. In this excellent BigThink interview, Antonelli answers the grand question of design: What makes good design?

[T]he truth is this: It’s a very complex recipe. The world has become more complex, and you can’t anymore have an equation with just two variables. [I]t’s a differential equation with many variables. What I can tell you as one of the litmus tests is, think if this object were not on earth. Would it be a pity? Would you miss it?” ~ Paola Antonelli

via Swiss Miss

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The Wisdom of TED in Kinetic Typography

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What cross-disciplinary self-actualization has to do with motion graphics remix.

Starting tomorrow, we’ll be reporting live from TED 2011: The Rediscovery of Wonder. Last week, we warmed up with 5 must-read books by some of this year’s TED speakers. Today, we’re revisiting a Brain Pickings remix culture original, part of the TEDify project, celebrating what we most love about TED: The incredible cross-pollination of ideas across different disciplines that radically alters how we see the world and what we make of our role in it.

 

Previously on TEDify: The secret of happiness, as articulated by a collage of TED perspectives.

For complete coverage of this year’s event, keep an eye on the Twitter feed and swing by here starting tomorrow for exclusive soundbites and photos.

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