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Uncovering the First, Fascinating Rulebook for Subway Sign Design

A legendary document brought to the masses.
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Late one night last August, three Pentagram designers rummaging through the design firm's basement archives found the Rosetta Stone of New York subway graphics: the original Standards Manual, designed by Bob Noorda and Massimo Vignelli in the late 1960s.

The 180-page binder, the key to the system's iconic design choices, outlines a meticulous vision of signage intended not merely to look good -- though it does -- but to simplify navigation of the subterranean labyrinth. In its attention to passenger behavior, the manual goes above and beyond what most of us would term graphic design.