Sunday, September 12, 2010

The 1979 New York Subway Map: A Question of Authorship, Part II

“I thus decided to designate the 1979 map as the Tauranac-Hertz map”

Your reasoning is impeccable, but the semiotics may not communicate the reasoning clearly. The priority of names may be taken to imply priority of design. (Hertz complains of being “at the arse end of the hyphen”.) I prefer the neutral name “1979 MTA map”, which I believe Tauranac and Hertz find acceptable.

You quote from your book, “Conceived by John Tauranac; designed and executed by Michael Hertz Associates” and then say you are revising this as “While Tauranac played a vital role in the development of the map he neither conceived of it nor did he design it.”

What is it to ‘conceive’ a subway map? I know what it means to conceive a feature—the geographic realism (Tauranac), or the distortion of the geography to give enough space for the subway lines (Hertz), or the trunk-based color coding (Tauranac), or a particular way of doing this (Nobu Siraisi), or a set of trunk colors (Siraisi & Hertz), or the rush-hour express symbolism (Sirais),or the service table (Joe Korman) etc. To say that anyone conceived the whole map would imply that one individual conceived all the major design features. As far as I can see, nobody conceived the whole map, neither did anybody design the whole map. The map evolved through the interaction of the members of the committee and Michael Hertz Associates, as well as through the feedback from Bronzaft’s field tests and questionnaires, and the interaction with Phyllis Cerf Wagner.

It seems more apt to say that the 1979 MTA map grew organically, than that it was conceived, designed, and executed.

For the record: John Tauranac was ‘Chairman of the Subway Map Committee’ & ‘Project Manager’ for the the new map. The designations ‘chief designer’ or ‘design chief’ were later informal descriptive terms. Mike Hertz was hired by the MTA as ‘Design Consultant’. Nobu Siraisi was hired by Hertz as ‘Art Director’.


“The impetus for a new map began with the work of Stephen B. Dobrow, Bronzaft and Tim O’Hanlon who field-tested the Vignelli map in 1972 and 1973. The results of their tests led to the formation in 1976 of the Subway Map Committee”

This has been claimed by Bronazft and Dobrow but I have seen no official documentation on the instigation of the Subway Map Committee—its remit or the reason for its inception. Known facts are: Bronzaft carried out the study in 1972/73, and by the end of 1973 was sending preprints to public officials; in 1974 Tauranac joined the MTA and found in William Allinson a senior figure who shared his desire for geographic maps; during 1974-75 the MTA guidebook ‘Seeing NY’ was produced, in which Tauranac did the cartographic design of a new geographic map subway map, and Mike Hertz was hired for the graphic design; as soon as that finished at the end of 1975, Tauranac and Hertz were assigned to Wilkinson’s committee. I see four factors triggering the committee:
(a) David Yunich & Fred Wilkinson (ex Macy’s men) pushing new marketing methods for the MTA. (The map was seen by many people as a marketing tool primarily, and as a wayfinding tool secondarily.)
(b) Allinson advocating a geographic subway map at a senior TA level.
(c) Tauranac successfully completing the new geographic subway map in ‘Seeing NY’.
(d) Bronzaft & Dobrow firing off their study. (With due publicity: Bronzaft had been appointed by Mayor Lindsay to a transit Watchdog Committee; Dobrow was head of the Committee for Better Transit).
So, the Bronzaft-Dobrow report only added to the impetus to set up the committee.


“its first iteration of the new map in the Spring of 1978”

That was the 3rd of 4 prototypes that were exposed to the public: a 3-color map in May 1976; another 3-colour map, probably June 1976; a 1-color map at Cityana in February 1978; a 2-color map at Cooper Union in April 1978.

Peter B Lloyd

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