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September 11, 2014updated 02 Aug 2021 9:19am

Kickstarter raises $250,000 to reprint New York subway graphics manual in a single day

By City Monitor Staff

Joke Kickstarter campaigns get a lot of media attention, but sometimes those campaigns launched entirely in earnest can be just as bizarre. There was the artist who knitted an entire corner shop’s worth of woollen produce. Then there’s the book of critical essays on My Little Pony.

And now, two New York-based designers have used the site to fund a reprint of the 364-page New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual, 1970. Since the campaign launched yesterday morning, it’s raised over $250,000.

A quarter of a million dollars, in one day.

Turns out people really like fonts.

Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth, two New York-based designers, started the campaign after coming across a rare copy of the manual in the basement of design agency Pentagram. It documents the symbols, signage and colour scheme introduced in 1970 to make sense of the city’s jumbled metro signage system.

The pair uploaded photos of the manual’s pages to this site, and it became so popular that they realised there might be an audience for a reprint. So they joined Kickstarter, to raise a modest $108,000 worth of donations to fund the publishing process. Just over 24 hours later, they’ve raised over double their target.

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The enthusiasm with which the campaign has racked up support may reflect the fact that donating is the only way to get your hands on the manual. Those giving $98 or more will automatically receive a copy, and the campaign’s page notes that, because Reed and Smyth obtained a one-off license from the Metropolitan Transit Authority, the manual is “never again to be printed or available anywhere else”.

The reprint will be a page-by-page replica of the original manual, with a new introduction by designer and critic Michael Bierut and a 5,000 word essay on its history by Christopher Bonanos, a writer at New York magazine. A quote from Bonanos is included on the campaign’s page: 

[It’s] an artefact from a really important moment in the history of New York: the point when the city began to realize it couldn’t just take the subway system for granted and focus all its attention on highways and car culture… signs were a small part of that rebirth, but they were a highly visible one.”

So, if entire pages dedicated to giant Helvetica letters and sketches of subway stairs are your jam, go donate and bag yourself a copy. We hear they’re going fast.


manual 2.png

Images: Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth.

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