Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Art versus Design

Artists are singular, making art for themselves. Designers must solve the problem. Massimo Vignelli, who passed away yesterday, designed the NYC subway map in 1972 (on the right). It was replaced with another in 1979 (on the left). I remember my first trip to NY and using his map. Pure design.


  1. I'm of two minds about Vignelli's subway map. Yes, it looks gorgeous and in many ways is a triumph of abstraction in the name of clarity. But people found it difficult to use, which in my mind signifies bad design. Obviously you can go too far on the spectrum toward abstraction, past the point where people can understand it. I think good design is knowing where on the spectrum you need to stop.

    Look at all our electronic devices, all the buttons and icons in secret code, and god help you if you don't know the code (of course it isn't written down anywhere, user manuals are so 20th century). Don't you often long for it to say "menu" instead of three elegant horizontal lines? Oh no, that would be totally uncool.

    I vote for making things easy for people to understand and use.

  2. Kathy, you are so succinct. I wish I had your gift for writing.

    Now, your comment on "knowing the code" leads me to remember the time many years ago when I was told to "click" on the icon to have the program start. I clicked with no result until I cried. I gave up, went home, and my husband asked, when I said I clicked, "Did you double click". I knew then there was a hidden secret code for using technology and I was not in on that secret.

    As for Massimo, he had quite a backbone and strength. Which I admire. So, no surprise that his graphic carried that quality. Seems that there was supposed to be a companion guide for that map, but it was derailed and the map stood alone. As with all design, it gets replaced or supplanted, and so morphed by another designer to another kind of map.

    Architecture has the same problem because it carries the design component. Many an elegant door has had a handmade sign slapped on it because the signage is just not apparent. You know THAT from all those great signs you post!

    Anyway, thanks for the great comment.