NYC Subway Standards Reissue Sets High Standard for Kickstarter Campaigns

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A Kickstarter Campaign reissues NYC’s iconic Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual.

Breaking Through the Noise of the Crowd

This week we’ve looked at the wisdom of the crowds, from LA’s very own Yelp page (“Your souls, like your city, are 95% concrete,” said one commenter) to the Goldhirsch Foundation’s Tara Roth about LA 2050. LA2050 crowdsourced ideas for civic improvement, the best (or most popular) of which earned $100,000 each from the socially-oriented philanthropic organization.

For the thousands who chimed in with their up or down votes on the competing ideas however, they did not actually have to part with any cash.

But what about if you have a great design idea and you want to crowdsource funding?

As everyone knows, it’s an increasingly crowded field. Kickstarter requests jam our inboxes these days. And as anyone who has tried to raise funds via crowdfunding knows, the campaign is a mammoth production in itself.

So the ante is up to sharpen the idea, its presentation and, perhaps most importantly, people’s awareness that the pitch is out there.

Which brings us to a Kickstarter campaign that wraps up tomorrow. The concept, by graphic designers Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth, was simple: reissue the 1970 NYC Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual (a signage and wayfinding system first commissioned in 1967 to clear up the visual muddle on the subway), as close as possible to its original; and make the reissue available only to those who fund the project on Kickstarter. The publication will not be available in bookstores.


As of writing, the campaign has 6,546 backers and has raised $780,389 of a $108,000 goal, with 23 hours to go. Nice going. And it has received a boatload of press.

Which makes one wonder, what matters more? The idea and its presentation? Or the PR that brings it to people’s attention?

Reed and Smyth’s concept is catnip for design fanatics. It taps into not only the revival of interest in the aesthetics of the analog 1970s (the standards became a global standard, though were modified over the years), but specifically the legacy of the great Massimo Vignelli who passed earlier this year. Add to that, the project’s creators, designers at venerable design firm Pentagram, have pitched it at the highest level of perfectionism, as you’ll see in their description of precise specifications (it will be “printed on 100 and 140 gsm Munken Pure ivory offset paper,” with “plates printed from high-resolution scans of the original Standards Manual.” They also explain the slight alterations: The reissue will be Smyth (section) sewn rather than ring bound,” and “the reissue cover, introduction, and essay headings will be set in a custom version of Standard Medium by type designer Nick Sherman” who “painstakingly recreated the font.”)

But in addition Reed and Smyth worked with a crowd funding consultant Vann Alexandra Daly who made sure the media knew about the campaign. As she explained to Fast Company, her team “worked to generate buzz for the project by creating a Twitter account in which a page from the manual was tweeted every single day. Based upon that Twitter account, a number of publications (including Fast Company) wrote about the Standards Manual; within three weeks, with no promotion, it had over 800 followers. By the time the Standards Manual Kickstarter was ready to go live, Daly and her team had not only proved there was interest in the project, but had lined up the reporters who covered the Twitter account to cover the Kickstarter when it went live.”

Presumably the reporters wouldn’t have gobbled up the story if the idea wasn’t compelling. But it’s instructive to learn how much the messaging matters in breaking through the Kickstarter noise.

For more useful hints and tips for getting people to kick in funds for your projects read the rest of the story, here. And now you have 22 hours to go to get your copy of the 1970 NYC Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual.