Here’s the link to my Powerpoint presentation: AndieLessa_nytype

Fig. 1. Image from:

Since 1904, when the subway in New York City first opened its doors, the world has been through a bunch of changes in graphic design norms. Art Nouveau, Minimalism, Cubism and Expressionism: these are just some of the art movements that happened in the 20th century. Unlike the Paris subway system, that displays deep inspiration of Art Nouveau in its architectural traces, the NYC subway remained mostly immune to any specific artistic style.

The typographic mosaic signs present in MTA’s subway system, previously mentioned here, are of Byzantine influence. Despite carrying some influence of an artistic style from several centuries ago, MTA’s subway stations are not overwhelmed by that one characteristic. That it so due to the way the mosaics are displayed next to modern-looking tiles and other neutral elements.

It wasn’t until 1966 that the visual identity of the New York City subway system was unified. As seen on the image above (Fig. 1), signage followed a rather anarchistic look, not following much hierarchy nor being really legible from a distance.

Fig. 2. Image from:

From 1966 on, the New York City subway visual identity has been following the design style pictured above, on Fig. 2. Signed by Massimo Vinelli, the communication identity of the transit system is much more simple than before, and more effective. When commuting in a fast-paced city such as New York City, an easy-to-read signage is key.

Image from:

Nowadays, it’s impossible to think about the subway in New York City without having the iconic image of Helvetica come to our minds. Even if you don’t know much about typography and never heard of Helvetica, I’m sure you recognize the geometric lines of the most famous typeface in the world.

It wasn’t until 1966 that the Swiss typeface made its debut into the New York City subway signage. Massimo Vignelli, also responsible for the creation of the iconic American Airlines logo, designed the new visual identity for the transit company. His love for clean and legible lines was translated into simplicity and brought order to the typographic signs of MTA’s subway system.

Fifty years on, nothing much has changed: Helvetica is still omnipresent in MTA’s identity. And New Yorkers wouldn’t take it any other way.

David W. Dunlap/The New York Times

Perla was kind enough to let me write a post on her blog, Typellustration. Here’s a link to it.

Typography has always been a topic of interest to me. It’s fascinating to understand how the different shapes of letters can sometimes convey more meaning than just what is actually being written by using them.

Living in New York City, I’m surrounded by different styles of graphic design from the moment I step outside my building in the morning. The corner deli, the public school across the street, the french bistro next door — each of those places carry a certain identity; and the typography on their façade is one key element to that.

I’ve realized that the story of New York can be told by analyzing the typographic elements on the streets of the Big Apple. Many times, even without reading what is written, we can have a grasp of what year it was built, if there was any strong cultural influence, what kind of establishment it is, and much more. We don’t even realize, but our brain is connecting those dots instantaneously, from the moment we glance at that piece of signage. Or at least for those of us who are interested in typography. And for those who are not necessarily, that is the purpose of my blog; to educate people through the study of typography in New York City.

Probably the most used typeface worldwide, Helvetica has been around since the late 60’s. People who love it tend to emphasize the clear lines, easy legibility and elegant — yet laid back — look. The ones who frown at the sight of this Swiss typeface complain that it has no identity and that it has been overused. Both sides have a point.

My way of seeing Helvetica is that it was groundbreaking when it came out, but it has lost a good part of its luster for being used without precedents. When this Swiss typeface was developed, in 1957, using a sans-serif font like this one was considered provocative. At that time, choosing Helvetica to write a mission statement of a company, for example, meant that the institution was modern, innovative and cutting-edge. That is not necessarily true in our days anymore.

Helvetica has become normative when people, not just designers, want to use a typeface without much fuss. As a graphic designer, I avoid using it as much as possible. It’s a shame, since Helvetica definitely is a beautifully designed typeface. I just feel that it’s now seen as cliche and a sign of laziness; as if we all knew Helvetica goes well in most circumstances, so we have to work harder to find another typographic solution.

Many New York City subway stations feature mosaic signs. Most of the ones we see now are either renovations or new versions of the original ones. They follow different styles: some stations have a more traditional look, with serif fonts, such as Christopher Street and Grand Central. Other, like Delancey St and Borough Hall, display modern sans-serif fonts.

Since it started running, in 1904, the New York City subway has been through inumerous changes when it comes to styles of signage. The mosaics, though, have lasted through all this time and don’t show signs of going anywhere. In fact, all recently renovated stations have mosaics, such as Jay St Metro Tech.

Durable and stain-resistant, glass tile is a great choice for subway mosaics. For hundreds of years, since their early development by the Byzantines, people have recognized the natural beauty of glass tile mosaics. And the fact that this piece of art history is still present in New York City is fascinating.

During the past few years, Deli-Groceries’ owners in the New York City have been renovating their businesses where certain aspects serves the role to distinguish such business from others. These aspects (materials and/or objects) that can be encountered in numerous Deli-Groceries happen to be eye-catchy, aesthetic and durable. The application of such have become trends and as a result, it is very demanding and typical to see in the streets. It is to be acknowledged that most commercial front-store light boxes used in such businesses happen to exhibit a lot of similarities. For example, one common material used is known as “Diamond Plate” which is very shiny, long-lasting and easily accessible. Similarities can be also found in the lettering of these signs. For instance, the color of the letters are often white (with transparency) and on the inside, beautiful changing-lights are incorporated making it very aesthetic and eye-catchy.

Light Box_NYC

Pictures taken by: Josel De la Cruz

As you can see in this picture, the font and the lettering design used is very basic. Hence, it is to be said that the design process is not a problem to the builders of these Light-boxes. It may be basic but it does the job! and at the same time, it distinguishes Deli-grocery from other stores; which seems to be the main purpose of it.

Thanks for your time. My name is Josel De la Cruz and it has been a pleasure to write a post on “New York Type

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I’m going to write a series of posts on the typography work of the New York City Subway system. Since the transit company began running, in 1904, its visual identity has been through a lot of changes.

The following posts will feature ways typography turns into a piece of art with mosaics; the introduction of Helvetica as a key part of the visual identity of the NY Subway System; and an overview on the main changes in typography the company has experienced throughout the years.

Rachel Green (Jennifer Aniston) as a waitress, before finding a job in her field, on a scene from the TV show “Friends”

I’m currently earning my Advertising Design Bachelors degree. I’ve been doing freelance work in my field for some time now, but what really pays the bills is my full time job as a waitress. I wonder when I’ll be able to quit.

It’s tough having to go to work everyday knowing you’re not aggregating much knowledge to your life. Don’t get me wrong–I feel that working in the restaurant business has taught me lot about how to deal with different kinds of people, how to multitask and has increased exponentially my expertise in wine and different cuisines. But I’ve reached that plateau where nothing much is new, and that’s frustrating.

I know it’s a matter of time; once I graduate and find a full time job as a Graphic Designer, I’ll be able to leave the life of waitressing behind. But I can’t help but fantasize, every once and while: what would happen if I quit my day job? The answer is: starve. So, back to work, Andie. Grab the apron and get back to work.


This post was inspired by this entry on Chris Brogan’s blog.