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Paul Shaw

Paul Shaw, an award-winning graphic designer, typographer, and calligrapher in New York City, teaches at Parsons School of Design and the School of Visual Arts. The designer or codesigner of eighteen typefaces, he is the coauthor of Blackletter: Type and National Identity and the author of Helvetica and the New York City Subway System (MIT Press). He writes about letter design in the blog Blue Pencil.

Titles by This Author

The True (Maybe) Story

For years, the signs in the New York City subway system were a bewildering hodge-podge of lettering styles, sizes, shapes, materials, colors, and messages. The original mosaics (dating from as early as 1904), displaying a variety of serif and sans serif letters and decorative elements, were supplemented by signs in terracotta and cut stone. Over the years, enamel signs identifying stations and warning riders not to spit, smoke, or cross the tracks were added to the mix. Efforts to untangle this visual mess began in the mid-1960s, when the city transit authority hired the design firm Unimark International to create a clear and consistent sign system. We can see the results today in the white-on-black signs throughout the subway system, displaying station names, directions, and instructions in crisp Helvetica. This book tells the story of how typographic order triumphed over chaos.

The process didn’t go smoothly or quickly. At one point New York Times architecture writer Paul Goldberger declared that the signs were so confusing one almost wished that they weren’t there at all. Legend has it that Helvetica came in and vanquished the competition. Paul Shaw shows that it didn’t happen that way—that, in fact, for various reasons (expense, the limitations of the transit authority sign shop), the typeface overhaul of the 1960s began not with Helvetica but with its forebear, Standard (aka Akzidenz Grotesk). It wasn’t until the 1980s and 1990s that Helvetica became ubiquitous. Shaw describes the slow typographic changeover (supplementing his text with more than 250 images—photographs, sketches, type samples, and documents). He places this signage evolution in the context of the history of the New York City subway system, of 1960s transportation signage, of Unimark International, and of Helvetica itself.

Titles by This Editor

Two Millennia of the Classical Roman Capital
Edited by Paul Shaw

The fiftieth anniversary of Helvetica, the most famous of all sans serif typefaces, was celebrated with an excitement unusual in the staid world of typography and culminated in the release of the first movie ever made starring a typeface. Yet Helvetica’s fifty-year milestone pales in comparison with the two thousandth anniversary in 2014 of Trajan’s Column and its famous inscription—the preeminent illustration of the classical Roman capital letter. For, despite the modern ascendance of the sans serif, serif typefaces, most notably Times Roman, still dominate printed matter and retain a strong presence in screen-based communication. The Eternal Letter is a lavishly illustrated examination of the enduring influence of, and many variations on, the classical Roman capital letter.

The Eternal Letter offers a series of essays by some of the most highly regarded practitioners in the fields of typography, lettering, and stone carving. They discuss the subtleties of the classical Roman capital letter itself, different iterations of it over the years, and the work of famous typographers and craftsmen. The essays cover such topics as efforts to calculate a geometric formulation of the Trajan letters; the recalculation of their proportions by early typefounders; the development and astonishing popularity of Adobe Trajan; type and letter designs by Father Edward M. Catich, Frederic W. Goudy, Eric Gill, Jan van Krimpen, Hermann Zapf, Matthew Carter, and others; the influence of Trajan in Russia; and three generations of lettercarvers at the John Stevens Shop in Newport, Rhode Island. Essays about modern typefaces—including Matinia, Senatus, and Penumbra—are contributed by the designers of these typefaces.

Contributors
John and Nicholas Benson, Frank E. Blokland, Matthew Carter, Ewan Clayton, Lance Hidy, Jost Hochuli, Jonathan Hoefler, Richard Kindersley, Scott-Martin Kosofsky, Gerry Leonidas, Martin Majoor, Steve Matteson, Gregory MacNaughton, James Mosley, Tom Perkins, Yves Peters, Ryan L. Roth, Werner Schneider, Paul Shaw, Julian Waters, Maxim Zhukov