New Yorkers may be incredibly diverse, but there’s one thing that will always unite us, for good or ill: the subway. So it makes sense that when designing the most recent iteration of the iconic “I Voted” sticker for the city, designer Marie Dagata reached for subway iconography. Her sticker features a minimalist version of the subway map and logos of all five boroughs and was submitted for a competition run by the city’s Campaign Finance Board, making its debut in 2017.
I spoke to Dagata on New York Primary Day to find out more about the inspiration for the sticker, and what it’s like to see the ubiquity of her design.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Rachelle Hampton: So, how’d you decide to enter the competition last year?
Marie Dagata: I saw an article on the New York Times Reader about the design contest and it peaked my interest. [I learned that] Zoe Markman was 10 when she won, so it wasn’t intimidating, as if all these New York design people were entering and winning and that kind of thing. The second part was that Milton Glaser, the designer of the ‘I love New York’ logo among other things, said how it’s very difficult to capture New York City is. He used the phrase “it’s kind of a puzzle,” and I love puzzles. So with those two things together, I decided I wanted to try this, and so I went ahead and started working on it. It kind of captured me, and I didn’t tell anyone I was doing it. For a month and a half, I just kept pulling the folder out and working on it.
How’d you get the idea for the eventual design? What inspired you?
Like anything, you have these bad ideas first. I was in this graffiti angle for a while, and I went off on some tangents with pizza, and they were awful, right? The thing that really started me off with the winning idea was the feeling that I wanted all the boroughs named in the sticker. I feel that New York City is often just seen as Manhattan, so I thought about the pride people have in their boroughs—if you know people from all the boroughs, they’re very much about the borough that they’re from. So it was really important to have the names of the boroughs. I eventually got to thinking, well, what’s the connection between voting and the boroughs? The subway came to mind: The subway brings all the people together of the five boroughs, and voting connects them as well. The ‘o’ in the ‘voted’ was a nice way to show graphically that they were coming together, the people of the boroughs, through the subway and through voting.
Could you tell me a little bit more about ideas you ended up discarding? I’m curious about the bad ideas.
They were cringeworthy, but that’s how the process is when you create things, right? As I said, [I experimented with] graffiti because I thought that showed New York in a way. Mayor de Blasio said “This is your city,” so I played around with trying to incorporate that, but it was too many words and not a great phrase. Cannabis names are great because they mix things together [like I was trying to do], so I looked up strains like “Buddhist Sister” and “Tangerine Haze,” just looking up names and how people come up with putting two things together that you don’t usually put together. I have a folder with all of my notes that I thought of, so I have the progression of the idea.
I want to say too that I only finished the design a few days before the deadline, and [so for the actual graphics] I had to call my friend Scott Heinz, who is a wonderful graphic designer for the History Channel. I met with him and within a couple of days he had the actual graphics and really made it clean and wonderful. I consider him a part of this as well.
How did you find out you’d won, and how did you feel?
It’s one of those things where you remember where you were standing. I have a laboratory on the campus of Columbia University, and I run a biotech company. I was in my office there, and I got the call and was so excited. It’s been a kick, it’s just been wonderful and such a great thing to be a part of. The social media part about this is really cool too. I’m enjoying seeing it and the way it moves around social media in different forms and its exponential development.
What’s like to walk around New York and see people wearing the sticker?
Of course, yeah, the first primary walking around Manhattan and seeing it was really cool, I’m not tired of it yet, that’s for sure. It’s fun to see people enthusiastic about it. I’m really happy the boroughs are represented: I think that people feel like they’re being represented, and they can wear it and be in any borough and it fits. People tell me when they see it like, Oh, someone on the subway has two stickers on their headphones, not even on a primary day and I’m like, that’s fun. I don’t actually live in the city anymore, so I’m relying on my friends to snag some extra stickers for me.
Did you vote today?
I’m on my way, literally. I’m informed, and I know who I’m going to vote for and I’m looking forward to it.