three separate systems, two of which incorporated earlier urban railway lines. The currentNew York subway system was formed in 1940 when the IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit),the BMT (Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit) and the IND (Independent) lines were merged. TheIRT lines date to 1904; the BMT lines to 1908 (when it was the BRT, or Brooklyn RapidTransit); and the IND to 1932. Needless to say, signage for the MTA (MetropolitanTransportation Authority) was a mess of hand-lettered ArtDeco, serif and sans seriftypefaces. The earliest station signs were often in ornate terra cotta forms, colored in partbecause early subway designers wanted people to be able to identify their stops while theywere in a fast-moving train, but commuters often identified only the colours rather than thewords. Only in the 1960s did designers decide to take action and try their hand at graphicallyarranging the jumbled subway signage. Already familiar with the rising European trend inmodernist typography of the time, designers started to get hold of fonts such as Noorda,Univers and Standard (or Akzidenz - Grotesk, which was partly what this typeface was basedon). A change was underway.But for some reason Helvetica - yes, Helvetica, don’t act surprised - only came intoprominence much, much later. And so the subway design team chose Standard as itsuniversal typeface in 1966, not Helvetica.The differences between Standard and Helvetica, both sans-serif faces that lack little strokes(or “serifs”) that terminate the principal strokes of a letter, are subtle,most noticeable in theends of characters like the C, 2, 3 and 5. The J was a particular problem in Standard — itwasn’t “hooky” enough. The Helvetica J, on the other hand, had quite a firm curve, whichmade it the J of choice for updated subway maps and trains. Standard was still used, but the‘J’ was replaced by Helvetica, signaling the first of many typeface ‘mutants’ in the subway.The swap from Standard to Helvetica only came about much later than most sources state:The switchover was codified in 1980 via a revised edition of the 1970
Graphics Standards Manual
The swap was from Standard Medium to Helvetica Medium - or more accurately toNeue Helvetica 65. Although implemented in 1980, only in December 1989 when the MTAMarketing & Corporate Communications Division (thedepartment in charge of its graphic standards) issued a new manual did Helvetica finallybecome the official typeface for the New York City subway signage - keeping true to thesluggish response time for change in the subway design.It can tell you which trains go where, which trains go when, and of course, how to get there.The choice for both the New York Subway and the Madrid Railway, it has become a symbolof modern direction and clarity in a time where postmodernism reigned prominent, at thetime.
The Battle of HelvArial
Computers became widespread in the early 1990s. Microsoft created the GUI system andopened up an entirely new universe to designers and consumers alike. As with all newadvances in graphic medium, the search for a core font began.First things first: Arial was not designed for Microsoft. Yes, Microsoft is its main successstory, but Arial was designed for Monotype in 1982 by Robin Nicholas and Patricia