Toucan play at this game

It’s been a busy couple weeks for graphic design and typography in the news. The thing is, I often miss the news because I’m busy watching baseball and old episodes of Battlestar Galactica, so I appreciate it when IBD readers send links to interesting stories. Here are a few items that landed in my in-box recently.

Maya Archeology Initiative vs. Toucan Sam
Personally, I am tired of Guatemalan nonprofit organizations using scare tactics and lawyers to bully defenseless multi-national food conglomerates. So I was glad to see Kellogg’s defend its signature Toucan Sam against the Maya Archeology Initiative’s logo’s blatant trademark infringement. (In case you can’t tell them apart because they’re so similar, the one on the left above represents an organization devoted to defending Mayan culture, the one on the right is Kellogg’s Toucan Sam.) According to news articles about the case, Kellogg’s objects not only to MAI’s use of a Toucan, but also its use of Mayan imagery, because, it turns out, Kellogg’s uses Mayan imagery, too.

Fight the good fight, Kellogg’s! Before you know it, MAI (which was *this close* to stealing the acronym of the association I work for) will be spelling fruit with two Os and trying to pass off high-fructose-corn-syrup styrofoam balls as cereal, just like you do.

Thanks to Friend of IBD Kirk Mona who alerted us on Twitter to this story on Forbes.com, and my co-worker Jamie King, who sent a link to this story on TechDirt.

A Book About Type
This story from NPR, sent to us by Friends of IBD Jeff Miller and Brent Erb, uses the words Font and Type in its headline, so it was pretty much guaranteed that I was going to hear about it.

The article is about a new book called Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield. (Simon is the really talented part of this author’s name. Garfield is just riding Simon’s coattails.) The book is about the history, trends, and cultural impact of certain fonts, and it is on my Amazon wish list.

Ahem.

Titling Gothic
New York City’s Central Park, a large urban nature area named after a coffee shop in the TV show “Friends,” made the news recently when it debuted its new identity on more than 1,500 signs (seen above in a New York Times photo by David W. Dunlap). And when it did, Friends of IBD Adrianne Johnson and Bob Brzuszek let us know about this article on the New York Times blog.

The new identity features a palette of warm green with red highlights, a heavy dose of pictograms, and a typeface called Titling Gothic. The story quotes the typeface’s designer, David Berlow of the Boston-based Font Bureau as saying, “None of the styles of Titling Gothic exude the kind of authoritarian insistence of Helvetica, which I’m sure was considered in the selection process.”

I love this for all sorts of reasons. I love the discussion of the nuances of type, the carefully considered decision-making process, and that New York City had to go all the way to the home of the hated Red Sox to find a type foundry with just the right typeface for their park.

Thanks to everyone who sends these stories! I’ll make you a deal: If you keep sending current, relevant news items, I will keep you apprised of developments in six-year-old episodes of Battlestar Galactica as I watch them.

Underground Photos

This may come as a surprise to you, but there are no subways in Arkansas. So each time I’m in a city that has a subway, I find myself fascinated with this form of mass transit. Of course, I have to take pictures of subway signs, which brings a new level of uncomfortableness to passengers on the train. Something about a garishly dressed guy with a southern (though hardly noticeable) accent taking pictures of signs while sharing a safety strap with a similarly shorn Philadelphian speaking about the effective use of Helvetica sends confusing signals and makes others concerned about personal safety. You can even see in Paul’s face the level of discomfort he has with social subway photos in the image below.

Let’s face it: wayfinding is important. Whether in a city or at an interpretive site, communicating the location of everything from items of interest to restrooms is an essential part of a positive interpretive experience. Wayfinding can go beyond a means to an end and has become a work of art. The MTA (Metropolitan Transportation Authority) of New York City has been using the same subway map designed by Michael Hertz since 1979, following the principle that if it is not broke, and is even considered sexy in some circles, don’t fix it.

A sign of the 1972 MTA sign designed by Massimo Vignelli hangs today in the Museum of Modern Art as a classic example of modernist design. Vignelli very successfully transformed the maze of train lines into a collection of straight lines and consistent angles that improved navigation among users of the subway, but it did not mesh well with those also navigating the city streets.

The combination of subway navigation along with street navigation happens to be a key part of in the success to those trying to get around New York City. Though praised by designers for its simplistic approach, use of color, clarity, and unique vision as well as a square Central Park (even though Central Park is a rectangle), the people of New York found it confusing, which led to its retirement and replacement with the current map. The abstract design along with this important oversight is a prime example of form not following function.

An interesting side note (to Paul and me anyway) is that Men’s Vogue (I don’t subscribe; I’m much more of a Highlights reader) commissioned Vignelli to redesign the 1972 map to sell prints for charity. The reformatted map updated current lines and colors without the square Central Park. If you are interested in learning more about Vignelli’s approach to design, you can download his free ebook The Vignelli Canon on the Vignelli Associates website.

Transforming a complicated landscape into a usable map is no easy task. Form should follow function. Put yourself in the place of the visitor and put thought into how many different visitors will use the map. Establish simple design decisions that can improve navigation while still representing elements of the resource. Limiting yourself to a simple sans serif typeface in three or four different point sizes will improve readability and set a hierarchy to important elements for your visitors. Create similar rules for line point size and icons. Forget about using decorative fonts, complicated icons, or confusing images. Simplicity is important but accuracy and use is most important. (For more on using maps in interpretation, we recommend Heidi Bailey’s book Putting Interpretation on the Map.)

You may be thinking that I’m the only person in the world to be fascinated with subway signs and design, but I am not. In fact, the MTA has a great online gift shop where those like me can buy awesome gifts that are related to the culture and iconography of the New York subway system. I highly recommend all products related to the Orange B line and stops around 161st Street.