21 December, 2009
Uptown App, for iPhones
Manhattan’s urban grid is a vaunted model of simplicity, a rectilinear plan of numbered streets intersecting numbered avenues. Never mind that West 4th Street crosses West 10th, that those walking from Fifth Avenue to Third Avenue will seldom encounter Fourth Avenue, and that “North” in the New York sense differs from conventional "North" to the tune of 29°. It’s this kind of accuracy, transparency and accountability that makes New York the perfect home for Wall Street.
A fixture of the corner of Broadway and Houston, where H&FJ makes its home, is a tourist population forever asking that question of the ages, “which way is uptown?” I can’t entirely blame them: in the math of the NYC grid, Houston is 0th Street, and local signs wickedly conceal the real names of avenues below fake labels that are designed specifically to ensnare tourists. (Watch the meter when you ask a taxi driver to take you anywhere on “Avenue of the Americas.”)
To the rescue comes H&FJ’s own Andy Clymer, whose joint interests in typography, programming, and human decency are combined in Uptown App, his new utility for the iPhone 3GS. Andy’s thoughtfully used some of our fonts on what’s actually a pretty handy app: because it uses the iPhone’s built-in magnetometer, it can give you a quick read on “uptown” in places where GPS signals and cellular networks are unavailable or slow to come online, like when stepping out of freezing cold subway stations. Compared to the inconvenience of frostbite, 99¢ is a genuine bargain. —JH
20 December, 2007
Typographic Gifts for Designers, Part 10
Harry Beck's map of the London Underground is one of those seminal information graphics that has come to define an entire category. It must be as widely recognized as Mendeleev's design for the periodic table of the elements; it's surely been as influential, and as widely imitated and spoofed.
What makes both diagrams significant is that they bravely dispense with information traditionally thought to be crucial. Mendeleev described matter without any of its physical characteristics, which freed scientists to infer more significant information purely from the table itself. And Beck realized that the scale of a city was irrelevant to a commuter (as well as difficult to draw), so he bent the shape of Greater London to meet the needs of the map, in what's technically called a cartogram.
Mark Ovenden's Transit Maps of the World is a terrific and well-illustrated tour through the world that Beck created. It's interesting to compare the choice of cartograms and equal-area maps in different cities, and at different times: Beck's diagrammatic plan for the Paris Métro was rejected in favor of a beloved but impenetrable drawing, which is just the kind of Gallic gesture that has been confounding the English for centuries. The images in Ovenden's book make it tempting to make inferences about the cultures behind the maps: the diagrams for Moscow, St. Petersburg and Nizhiny Novgorod have an undeniably Suprematist bent, and those for Beijing and Guangzhou look as if they could actually be the Simplified Chinese ideogram for "subway." Closer to home, the map of Los Angeles looks likes an Anasazi petroglyph, and that of Washington, D.C. resembles nothing more than a pit of highly partisan snakes. —JH
10 December, 2007
Typographic Gifts for Designers, Part 6
I've yet to meet a designer that didn't have a thing for cartography. In any medium (to this day, maps are printed, engraved, drawn and painted) cartographers have to be excellent and inventive typographers, and mapmaking has given typography some of its most interesting styles. Some of the more exotic letters we've drawn certainly owe something to mapmaking, in this case the engraved maps of the very fertile Age of Enlightenment.
Equally interesting are the artists and designers who interpret maps. I hope to someday own one of Paula Scher's fantastic paintings (which incidentally are on display at New York's Maya Stendhal Gallery through January 26), but in the meantime I might outfit myself with one of the five City Neighborhood Posters from Ork Design. Chicago, San Francisco and Boston are represented, as well as Manhattan and Brooklyn; gift certificates are available for the itinerant among us. Hand screen printed, and signed and numbered, $22 each. —JH