The illustrated story of the New York subway map

The story of Massimo Vignelli’s New York subway diagram is re-told for younger readers in a new book published by MoMA

The Great New York Subway Map follows not just the creation of the 1972 map but also delves into Vignelli’s career, using it to explain the impact of design, and more specifically how graphic design is integral to everyday life.

The book traces the diagram’s development starting with the first phone call from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority – asking Vignelli to amalgamate the city’s multiple lines into one map – to the designer’s observations of how people actually used the trains and stations.


The designer is a recognisable figure in bright illustrations by Emiliano Ponzi, depicted as an overcoated man with swirling lines of colour around his head – described as “the snakes that had to be tamed inside the rectangle of a map”.

The Great New York Subway Map has has been created in partnership with The New York City Transit Museum, and is published by the Museum of Modern Art, which has contributed six full-colour reproductions of Vignelli’s work to the book.