Aiga essay on Helvetica and the NY subway

SanderB's picture

Aiga just published an extensive article on the (mostly) true story on Helvetica and the New York City Subway, written by Paul Shaw. In nine pages he writes starts with history and ends with the MTA Graphic Standards, as it still is today. external link to article

A superb article but what do you think of Helvetica as sign letter?

blank's picture

Nine pages about Helvetica and the NYC Subway? Paul is going to best James Mosley if he isn’t careful.

As a sign letter Helvetica sucks. Those vertical terminals create tiny counters that don’t hold up in dark places and the tight letterspacing makes things even worse. There’s a reason nobody uses it for road signs!

Nick Shinn's picture

I don't think one should apply the same criteria to pedestrian signage as to vehicular.

But one thing I have always wondered is why the names of train/subway stations aren't in super-extended faces, so that you can read them as your train pulls into the station (or whizzes thru) at speed. Is there anywhere in the world where that's been done?

(Ooops, bit off topic. Sorry Paul.)

guifa's picture

Those vertical terminals create tiny counters that don’t hold up in dark places

Must be more of a problem of the NY subway, being dark I mean. Madrid uses Helvetica and I've never found it to be a problem except in the few cases where the printers accidentally used Arial, but it tends to be well-lit, extremely well-lit in the new stations. In fact, with the new designs for the stations, Helvetica looks extremely sharp.

«El futuro es una línea tan fina que apenas nos damos cuenta de pintarla nosotros mismos». (La Luz Oscura, por Javier Guerrero)

joeclark's picture


Joe Clark

billtroop's picture

Nice to see Helvetica garnering some support. It does work, after all.

>the tight letterspacing makes things even worse

There's something the matter with this thought, James -- can you figure out what it is?

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