Michael Hertz, 1932-2020: ‘Father’ of the New York Metro Map

Michael Hertz, whose design firm created the map of the New York City subway that in 1979 replaced a controversial (though critically acclaimed) design by Massimo Vignelli—a map that today’s map design largely follows—died earlier this month at the age of 87, the New York Times reports. See also BBC News, CNN, NBC New York, the New York Post—that’s rather a lot of attention.

That 1979 map that has been critiqued, fulminated against and re-imagined over and over again has nonetheless managed to become iconic; however much the map offended various design aesthetics, as the Times obituary (and previous coverage) shows, it was created with care and purpose: the curves were deliberate, the references to aboveground landmarks were deliberate. It was a team effort, but the Times obit had this interesting item about who should get the credit:

There has been some sniping over the years as to who deserves credit for the 1979 map, with Mr. Hertz taking exception whenever Mr. Tauranac1 was identified as “chief designer” or given some similar title.

“We’ve had parallel careers,” Mr. Hertz told The New York Times in 2012. “I design subway maps, and he claims to design subway maps.”

In 2004, the Long Island newspaper Newsday asked Tom Kelly, then the spokesman for the M.T.A., about who did what.

“The best thing I could probably tell you is to quote my sainted mother: ‘Success has many fathers,’” Mr. Kelly said. “That’s not to disparage any work that anybody else put into the map. But, in all honesty, it’s Mike Hertz that did all the basic design and implementation of it. In all fairness, the father of this map, as far as we’re concerned, is Mike Hertz.”

New York Subway Map, 1979
MTA

The 1979 map isn’t quite the same as the current version. Transit Maps posted a copy in 2015, and has this to say about it: “It’s funny how we call this the ‘same’ map as today’s version, because there’s a lot of differences, both big and small. The Beck-style tick marks for local stations as mentioned above, no Staten Island inset, the biggest legend box I’ve ever seen, the colours used for water and parkland … the list goes on!”