One of the things I miss about living in a city with a subway system is the myriad thoughtful design elements that go into managing a perpetual flow of tourists and commuters. New York’s subway map presents us with an iconic tangle of interlocking tributaries resembling diagrams of a circulatory system. The NYC system’s ingeniously simple graphic presentation of lettered and numbered trains, encircled in their corresponding colors, can be read by most anyone with a rudimentary grasp on the English alphabet—from a new language learner to a small child. The Washington, DC subway system, though a much more prosaic affair overall, whisks riders through impressively cavernous, catacomb-like stations, with brutalist tile and concrete honeycombs that seem to go on forever. The squiggly lines of its color-coded map likewise promise ease of use and legibility.
And then there are the hours of reading time granted by a subway commute, a leisure I’ve relinquished now that I rely on car and bike. So you can imagine my envious delight in learning about Brazil’s Ticket Books, which are exactly what they sound like—books that work as subway tickets, designed with the minimalist care that major transit systems do so well. And what’s more, they’re free: “To celebrate World Book Day last April 23rd,” writes “future-forward online resource” PSFK, “[Brazillian publisher] L&PM gave away 10,000 books for free at subway stations across São Paulo. Each book came with ten free trips.” Riders could then recharge them and use the books again or pass them on to others to encourage more reading, an important public service given that Brazilians only read two books per year on average.
With subway map-inspired covers designed by firm Agência Africa, the books include The Great Gatsby, The Art of War, Hamlet, Murder Alley by Agatha Christie, Hundred Love Sonnets by Pablo Neruda, and more (including comic collections from Charles Schulz and Garfield’s Jim Davis). Watch an explainer video at the top of the post and see some lovely images of the book covers above. The campaign won three trophies at the Cannes Lions Festival in the categories “Promo,” “Outdoor,” and “Design,” and has proved so popular that publisher L&PM has expanded the project to other Brazilian cities, giving me yet more reason to visit Brazil. And if Ticket Books makes its way to a subway-enabled city near me, I may consider moving.