Brooklyn Designer Sells NYC Subway Signs - AOL News - Underground Signs

Ben Muessig
AOL News
(Nov. 19) -- Trevor MacDermid's office is tucked into an industrial area along the Brooklyn waterfront, but he might be the only New Yorker who can claim his desk is just steps from Times Square, Grand Central Station, Yankee Stadium and Coney Island.

MacDermid is the man behind Underground Signs, the only licensed retailer of the iconic black vinyl signs that steer millions of commuters and tourists through the New York City subway system every day.

The Big Apple's subway system is best known for its vast size, its numerous lines and, depending on whom you ask, its rats. But MacDermid says he's always been in awe of its signage.

Subway signs: Sealed and delivered. Trevor MacDermid makes and sells subway signs in all kinds of shapes and sizes, from 8-foot-long placards to these small Grand Central Station graphics.

"Amidst all of the complaining about the service and the grime and the dirt, there is a very handsome design aesthetic," he told AOL News.

About a year ago, MacDermid shifted his focus from Web consulting to begin designing and selling replica New York City subway-style placards -- from signs for tourist destinations like Wall Street and transit hubs like Union Square to less-well-known stops like Hoyt-Schermerhorn and Rector Street.

"I don't do these signs because I'm so interested in the trains. I really like the aesthetic of them," he said. "I also like the sort of identification that people have with a place or a location."

That's what motivates his customers -- sometimes as many as 30 per week -- to order mock-ups of the signs that carry special meanings.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has its own in-house sign-making crew, so the agency hasn't called on MacDermid yet for any work. However, his signs follow the MTA's exacting protocols to the T in Times Square.

MacDermid creates replicas that live up to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's exacting standards, as well as custom signs inspired by the subway system's aesthetic. For example, there is no Cooper Street subway station -- Cooper is actually the last name of one of his clients.

"A lot of attention was paid to typeface, colors, proportion -- and that speaks to me," MacDermid said. "It's clear, it's legible, it has a certain authority."

The MTA has been using the same recognizable design -- a black background topped with white Helvetica text and colored emblems -- for decades. According to MacDermid, that means it's good, not outdated.

"One way to gauge good design is to see how timely it is," he said. "These don't look like a trend or a fad or a style. It doesn't look dated. It still looks modern."

Strap-hangers might see MacDermid, armed with a measuring tape, at a subway station at any given time. But they won't see him on a morning train.

Though he considers the subways "incredibly reliable," he prefers to bike from his Prospect Heights apartment to his studio, where he designs the signs on a computer, cuts them onto vinyl, attaches the vinyl to aluminum sheets and covers the signs in a transparent layer of protective coating.

His best-selling sign is a placard for the 161st Street-Yankee Stadium stop, which he estimates outsells his Shea Stadium signs by a ratio of 20-to-1. Though the Mets have played at Citi Field for two seasons, he's yet to sell a Citi Field sign.

About half of his clients order custom designs, including one buyer who ordered a sign for an N train stop at Siasconset -- a beach in Nantucket, Mass.

"Maybe they live and work in New York, but maybe they have a vacation house -- a place they like to go to get away -- so they have made themselves a stop there," he explained.

With 468 stations in the subway system, as well as Metro North and Long Island Railroad stations, which are also operated by the MTA, MacDermid says his job never gets old.

Underground Signs might not stay underground for long. MacDermid hopes to secure contracts with agencies that run public transportation systems in Boston and Chicago.

The system is actually so vast that he sometimes mistakes real stations for custom orders -- like when one customer ordered a sign reading Beach 98 St.-Playland. MacDermid initially assumed the placard was bound for a rec room or a child's play room, but then realized it's a real subway stop in Rockaway, Queens.

MacDermid can expect more situations like that in the future, because in the coming weeks, he's hoping to become the sole licensee for replica signs modeled after the subway systems in Chicago and Boston, two cities he's not particularly familiar with.

In fact, it can be hard enough staying on top of the New York City subway system, especially with recent service cuts and route changes.

"I've gotten calls from people who say they want a Union Square sign because they used to live there a few years back. The W train used to stop at Union Square -- but now there's no W," he explained. "I have to ask them, 'Do you want it the way it was when you lived here or the way it is today?' I've had people go both ways."