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A Faceless New York (Part 3)

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I am standing on the platform in Jackson Heights, waiting for an express train when I see the light of a train approaching through the tunnel. Only now, I can’t tell which train is coming until the front car has entered the station. And even so, it takes a bit of squinting until it comes close enough to make out the badge. Yes, I’m getting old – but my eyesight is still good. So, it’s not that.

Earlier, when I threw up my dukes against gentrification and the loss of character in New York City, I glazed over another, more obvious example of losing face: the MTA’s wavering identity. I am not even talking about the loss of graffiti that once turned a train-ride into a lesson in underground, urban graphic art. Now, trains are virtually unidentifiable.

I have had plenty of beef with the MTA in the past, but this time its striking a different chord with me. Being that I’ve invested a large portion of my adult professional career in graphic design, I feel somewhat obligated to call out the MTA for this tragedy-in-the-making. Please join me in a collective: “what the eff happened to the design system/taxonomy?”

The MTA still uses the color-coded lines representing routes or trunks in their maps and stations, but traces of this system are slowly going extinct on the trains themselves. The new R142 trains that are slowly replacing the smelly-old cars are nice, clean and effective (so far). Let’s face it – anyone who has used the MTA in the past will appreciate the clear instructions being relayed instead of the muffled loud crap that no one understood anyway. But, the color codes and graphic design system is absent on the outside of the cars.

Thus, distinction is lost now. The experience is radically different in my estimation. There aren’t many cool things about the MTA, and you will rarely hear me compliment anything they do. But the graphic design is tight, and they had it good. The ubiquitous Helvetica used throughout with a strong color arrangement makes for a very user-friendly, seamless scheme.

I can’t believe today I can say : there used to be a time when I could tell which train was coming from almost a station away. That said, I strongly urge the MTA to bring back the color coded designs to the exterior of the cars. Actually, consider this a plea. Don’t destroy the only thing you have going in your favor: your face.

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One Response to “A Faceless New York (Part 3)”

  1. Maria says:

    Impatience has consumed you! Don’t get me wrong, I am also impatient and get aggravated when I can’t see which train is coming, just expect it’s not yours and you may be pleasantly surprised (yeah right, if only we could fool ourselves and be happy). All I can say is the Transit Authority has heard all this and they don’t give a shit, they live to piss us off and then act like we are just being ungrateful. My answer to you is just use this time to people watch, and watch them get angrier and angrier, you know like you!

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