May 29, 2014

Vignelli's Map

Massimo Vignelli dies, and his NYT obit prominently features The Map — his early 1970’s reworking of the New York Subway system map, a thing of beauty I’ve admired for years. But the obit also notes that many of its intended users disliked it, and it was quickly withdrawn by popular demand — surely the very symptom of a poor design (as opposed to art).

And yet the obit makes it clear that the design community holds it up as canonical good design:

"The architecture critic Paul Goldberger, writing on The New Yorker magazine’s website about the map’s revival, called the original Vignelli design 'more than beautiful.'

'It was,' he said, 'a nearly canonical piece of abstract graphic design.'”

Indeed so — with the emphasis on “abstract”, I guess. Really good design is surely about persuading even the most obstinate skeptic that the design is worth it — without the skeptics even noticing they’re being persuaded. Bad design is surely about hitting the user over the head repeatedly and telling them they’re wrong to feel pain because the aesthetics are so cool.



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