More than four decades have gone by since acclaimed designers Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda of Unimark International were hired by the New York Transit Authority (now the MTA) to modernize and unify the look of the subway signage, which by Noorda’s own account “was a mess.” Cluttered with varied typefaces of different sizes and rendered on different materials from mosaic tile to a paper sign stuck to the wall, the old signage system confused more than aided travelers. In its place, Vignelli and Noorda developed a cohesive subway wayfinding system designed to promote intuitive understanding — so much so that they promised: “The passenger will be given information or directions only at the point of decision. Never before. Never after.” It did all that and more. The New York Transit Authority’s wayfinding system is still considered a masterpiece of clarity, logic, consistency, and elegant modernist design.
The accompanying 174-page Graphic Standards Manual was as brilliantly written and produced by Vignelli and Noorda. One day in 2013, two young designers at Pentagram – Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth – stumbled upon an original copy of the manual in the basement of Pentagram’s New York office. The pair found the manual so awesome that they wanted to share it with friends, so they created a dedicated website (thestandardsmanual.com) and posted scanned pages online. The site instantly went viral. Within 72 hours, more than a quarter million people visited the site. Although delighted, Reed and Smyth felt strongly that an on-screen viewing didn’t do justice to the beauty of the real Standards Manual. To truly appreciate it, they felt people should see it full size in print, and they set out to produce a book with an introduction by Vignelli protege and Pentagram partner Michael Bierut and an essay by New York Magazine’s Christopher Bonanos, author of “Instant: The Story of Polaroid”.
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The covers of most university catalogs typically show photos of the campus or students lounging around the quad, or just present a plain typographic title. The covers for the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) Extension catalog are an exception to the norm. Since 1990, they have featured the works of several of the world’s best-known graphic designers, beginning with Paul Rand.
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The product used to be called NutsOnline and its packaging identity was totally generic and forgettable. So, when the New Jersey-based online retailer secured the domain name “Nuts.com,” it set out to change its image by hiring a powerhouse team to design a new logo and packaging. The result is an identity that looks like it was created by precocious third-graders – but in a good way. The letters were hand-drawn by Pentagram partner Michael Bierut and digitized by type designer Jeremy Mickel. Illustrator Christoph Niemann made line-drawings of the gang of playful nuts. The effect is fresh and charming, and unconventionally nutty. As breezily executed as this design looks, it takes skill to make it appear spontaneous and carefree and not amateurish and crudely done. A closer looks shows there is a hierarchy to the information on the box and an organization to the design. Even the see-through nut personalities give consumers a glimpse of the product inside. This is sophisticated design made to look naïve.
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Editor’s Note: Normally we don’t post people announcements on our blog, but we are breaking the rule for Kit, @Issue’s co-founder and creative catalyst. Kit’s new studio is off to a running start, with his entire San Francisco staff still on his team and projects proceeding on schedule. Below is the joint announcement released by Pentagram and Studio Hinrichs. Watch for more great work from Kit. Congratulations, dear friend, and all the best.
October 1, 2009 — After 23 years as a partner of Pentagram, Kit Hinrichs announced that he is leaving the international consultancy to establish an independent design firm, Studio Hinrichs, in San Francisco.
“My more than two decades at Pentagram have been the most gratifying of my 40-plus years in design,” says Hinrichs. “I’ve been proud to be in partnership with many of the world’s most talented and dedicated designers. Their commitment to design excellence set the bar to which I’ve continually aspired.”
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