The (Mostly) True Story of Helvetica and the New York City Subway

The (Mostly) True Story of Helvetica and the New York City SubwayHelvetica is the official typeface of the MTA today, but it was not the typeface specified by Unimark International when it created a new signage system at the end of the 1960s. Why was Helvetica not chosen originally? What was chosen in its place? Why is Helvetica used now, and when did the changeover occur?

Letters from New York

Construction has begun on the Orwellian-named Freedom Tower, which will be 1,776 feet tall when it is completed, which will make it the tallest building in the world. Except for the CN Tower, of course. And don’t give me any of that “It’s a free-standing structure” crap — I had dinner in it, it’s a building.

But much more interesting than the mundane details of reconstruction is the choice of font for the cornerstone.


Everything looks better in Gotham.

Gotham was designed by Tobias Frere-Jones a few years ago for GQ magazine. Frere-Jones shares his thoughts on the blue-collar font:


I suppose there’s a hidden personal agenda in the design, to preserve those pieces of New York that could be wiped out before they’re appreciated. Having grown up here, I was always fond of the ‘old’ (or just older) New York and its lettering. After watching one of the most distinctive features of the city being destroyed last fall, it seemed more urgent to protect the original ‘character’ of the city, both in the sense of letters and personality. After collecting material for Gotham, I set myself the task of walking every last block of Manhattan with a camera, and recording anything extant and noteworthy.

They may have fucked up pretty much everything else do to with rebuilding on the World Trade Center site, but at least they chose a good font.

(This entry is syndicated from my website, Blue Redux. There’s more stuff there than there is here on LJ.)