Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story by Paul Shaw

Left Image:
Cypress Avenue (6)

Center Image:
South Ferry (1)

Right Image:
Rector Street (R/W)

The MIT Press edition of Helvetica and the New York City Subway System has garnered a range of praise. There have been reviews from the Wall Street Journal, the ArtsBeat blog of the New York Times, Slate and The Book Bench blog of The New Yorker.

The Wall Street Journal, Review by Michael Bierut
"One of the best-researched books on modern design to date."

The New York Times, Review by Alice Rawsthorn
"It's always refreshing to come across an unexpurgated account of the messy reality, and the American design historian Paul Shaw has produced a particularly thoughtful and engaging example in his new book, Helvetica and the New York City Subway System (MIT Press)."

The New Yorker, Review by Elissa Lerner
"In the ambitious and highly readable Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: the True (Maybe) Story, Paul Shaw explains in great detail how Helvetica didn't quite take the city by storm."

Slate
The Culture Gabfest weekly endorsements, Julia Turner's Book Pick: Helvetica and the New York City Subway System.

The Wilson Quarterly (pdf), Review by Sara Sklaroff
"The book is a concise history of the New York subway, a visual archive of a century's worth of underground signs (some of which are still in use), and an impressive study of the conflict between the purity of design and the messiness of the real world.


Praise for Paul Shaw and Helvetica and the New York City Subway System from some of the leading figures in graphic design and typography.

Steven Heller, cofounder and co-chair of the MFA Designer as Author program, SVA.
In his typographic notes from the underground Paul Shaw has done an invaluable service by chronicling the history of Helvetica in the NYC subway system. Who would have thought a simple typographic system would become such an epic tale.

Tom Geismar, founding partner, Chermayeff & Geismar.
The story of the New York subway sign system is an amazing piece of research. While Helvetica vs. Standard is the focus, the most intriguing part is Shaw's recounting in detail of the evolving sequence of decisions and personalities involved. It wonderfully captures the complexity of this kind of undertaking, and shows how the persistence of a few key dedicated people to expand and improve the system over many years can have great impact.

Ellen Lupton, author of Thinking with Type.
Readers of Paul Shaw's haunting tale will discover the truth about the signage of the New York City subway. Along the way, they will find much to learn about typography, sign systems, New York, and the dangers of taking anything (even Helvetica) for granted.

William Drenttel, founder and editorial director, Design Observer.
Zany, complex, exhaustive —and exhausting, the New York City subway system is an entire world unto itself. Paul Shaw lost himself in its tunnels, plazas and overpasses, and turned himself into a typographic explorer. Everything one should know about the history of this system, typographically speaking, is in this book. It's a remarkable history and a rich story.

Margaret Calvert, designer of Rail Alphabet and Calvert.
In the context of “Transportation Signage,” who else but Paul Shaw—lettering artist, type designer and design historian—could expand, with such eloquence, on the appropriateness and usage of the ubiquitous “love it or hate it” Helvetica and its close cousin Akzidenz Grotesk (aka Standard). In explaining the minutiae of the signage in the New York City subway system, his natural curiosity and passion succeeds in making the esoteric exoteric.

Alfred Hoffmann, former director of the Haas Typefoundry, Switzerland. Son of Eduard Hoffmann, initiator of Neue Haas Grotesk (Helvetica) with Max Miedinger in 1957.
Both railfans and typeface geeks will be equally fascinated with this historical essay which could quite as well be a dramatic detective novel.

Erik Spiekermann, creative director and managing partner, Edenspiekermann.
For transit and type nerds alike, Paul's book is the Bible. It finally tells the true story of the New York subway sign system and shows how even big projects like it are shaped by people and their likes and dislikes; by accidents, prejudice and half-knowledge. This is a history book, a type book, a design book and a business book. Standard rocks!

Michael Bierut, partner, Pentagram.
Paul Shaw’s study of the signage in the New York subway system is one of the best pieces of design history I’ve ever read. Impeccably researched and gracefully written, it uses a seemingly prosaic subject as a starting point for a fascinating exploration of the way that graphic design developed as a discipline in the 20th century.

Richard Hollis, designer, educator, author.
How graphic design history should be written. All the facts you need, and all the visual evidence.

Massimo Vignelli, cofounder of Unimark International and founder, Vignelli Associates.
Paul, Did I tell you that your report is terrific? That is the final statement on the subject. Hugs, Massimo