I was born in Newark, New Jersey in 1937 and lived the first 19 years of my life just across the Passaic River in Kearny. My father ran a commercial fishing boat and I spent time on the Atlantic with him during grade school years. Kearny was an industrial area and I worked in the factories during the summers to pay my college tuition. The no-nonsense functional aesthetic of the sea and the factories has been an important influence in my approach to design.
In 1960 I graduated from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York with a degree in Industrial Design. At that time graphic design was a European influence that was just being introduced in American universities at the graduate level. When I met a student who studied logo design with Paul Rand at Yale, I knew I wanted to design logos.
I started my career in Detroit, Michigan, first with General Motors, and later with the office of William Schmidt. At General Motors I designed the packaging system for their Delco automotive parts that unified 1,200 different packages. At the Schmidt office I did the graphics for the 1962 USA Pavilion at the trade fair in Zagreb, Yugoslavia. The theme of the exhibition was "Leisure Time". I devised an hourglass logo with a sun and moon image in the top and used it as a gateway to the exhibit. It was my first experience integrating logo design into a three-dimensional environment.
In 1963 I joined the George Nelson office in New York and designed the graphics for the Chrysler Pavilion at the New York World's Fair which was a series of islands with exhibits designed for kids. Devising a "pointing hand" theme logo and adapting it as the site directional signs convinced me that logos could play a more important role in an overall design program.
In 1966 I went to Mexico City with Peter Murdoch to participate in a competition to design the graphics for the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games. It was the beginning of an adventure that has continued to influence my work and my life. The Mexico68 logotype that I designed was instrumental in winning the competition. The resulting design program, a multidimensional integration of logos, typography and color, developed to communicate to a multilingual audience, was cited by Philip Meggs in the book "A History of Graphic Design" as "...one of the most successful in the evolution of visual identification..." The lessons from this program have been a constant guide to my work.
A sad note back home during this period was the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I had the honor of designing the first commemorative stamp in the world issued by Mexico.
After the Olympic program Peter returned to London and I stayed on in Mexico for two more years to develop graphic programs for the Mexico City Metro and the 1970 World Cup. Like the Olympics, these urban programs were integral to the vitality of the city streets. Effective integration of graphics into an urban environment is a goal that is both challenging and rewarding.
After returning to New York from Mexico in 1971, I worked with Bill Cannan (Wyman & Cannan) and in 1979 established my own office, Lance Wyman Ltd. I have also been teaching corporate and wayfinding design at Parsons School of Design in New York since 1973.
© 2004 Lance Wyman
A Wayfinding system incorporates branding, signs, maps and directional devices that tell us where we are, where we want to go, and how to get there.
An effective wayfinding system can add an important dimension to the image of a museum, a transit system, an airport, an office building, or an entire city. It can be designed as a savvy helper that gives information and direction to people in a clear, appropriate, user friendly way, to assist them in finding their way into, through, and out of an environment.
Wayfinding offers the designer an opportunity to reference the history, culture, and essence of place in an immediate way that will be seen and used on a daily basis. An effective wayfinding system can be a visual ambassador, a means of saying "Welcome, let me help you find your way around and enjoy yourself".
The following are some pointers I've learned from designing various wayfinding systems. I've included images from selected programs and additional examples can be seen on my website: www.lancewyman.com
The Language of Wayfinding
The character and effectiveness of any wayfinding system is in large part a result of the language (word and/or images) used to convey identity, directional and interpretive messages. Words are formed from one or more languages an can be represented by a very wide variety of typefaces. Image methodologies can range from elaborate (pictorial illustrations and photography) to simple (color coding and symbols). Symbols can contribute simplicity, clarity and personality to a wayfinding system.
The Value of Symbols
Two basic ways we learn to represent and communicate the objects, actions and feelings in our lives are with words and images. Words are an effective method of communicating complicated interrelated ideas. It is symbols however that can communicate across the language barriers created by words. As obvious as that might sound, it is easy to overlook symbols when planning and designing a wayfinding system.
Navigating Different Languages
Effective wayfinding symbol systems were first developed for environments dedicated to transportation such as highways, railways and airports. Successful examples that have become transportation standards include the European Road Sign and the USA Department of Transportation Symbol Sign systems. Symbols are increasingly used on traffic signs rather than words as they can communicate instantly. Symbols representing sporting events have become a traditional part of Olympic Games communication.
Symbols (icons) have also played and enormous role in enabeling the public to interact with computers. Early experimental work at Xerox using visual symbols as part of the language needed to navigate a computer, and the icons implemented and made famous by the Apple Macintosh, have become standards for wayfinding on a computer.
Symbols are helping make the virtual environment of the computer world, and the real world of our built environments, easier to understand and navigate. This fosters further intelligent design and use of symbols, and offers insight into other areas of wayfinding where symbols can be put to work.
Avoiding Typical Symbol Problems
Every visual message within a wayfinding system should be able to communicate on its' own. The following issues explore reasons symbols fail and suggest what can be done to make improvements.
Are Too Many Symbols Being Used?
One of the most common mistakes can be using too many symbols. This will cause confusion just as color coding breaks down when too many colors are used.
There are no pre-determined statistics as to the most effective number of symbols that should be used and we have to remember that one symbol is too much if it doesn't communicate effectively.. On the other hand hundreds of symbols can work effectively if they are well designed and used properly.
Can the Symbols Be Remembered?
When incorporating symbols as part of a wayfinding system, it is important to choose images that are universally recognized. When symbols are site specific, identifying districts, events, or special services, it is necessary that each of the symbol images can be recognized and interpreted in the specific language that the viewer speaks. A "tree image", for example, can be recognized as "tree" in English, "arbol" in Spanish, and "ki" in Japanese. This is important in helping users remember the symbols, and enables description when verbally discussing directions.
How Can Architecture Be An Effective Reference?
Architectural structures are often the landmarks we use to navigate the urban environment. Architectural images used as symbols can effectively identify districts or specific locations. Landscape elements such as fountains, gardens, bridges and monuments can also make good symbol images. Symbols representative of functions, activities, history, and culture work effectively. It is a good rule of thumb to not use more than one similar type of symbol image in a given wayfinding system. If it is necessary to use more than one architectural image for example, a focus on the differences between building types, on building parts, or a specific detail will help create the desired individuality.
What Makes A Symbol Legible?
How well a symbol can be seen depends on various factors: lighting, size, viewing distance ratios, contrast, and recognizible form. These criteria are very similar to evaluating the legibility of typography. Symbols should be kept as simple and direct as possible without loosing touch with their intended message. When symbols are too complicated to be recognized, or too simple to have meaning, they become decoration, or visual static, rather than communication.
Making Symbols Work Harder
Symbols can participate with the environment in many ways and can enhance and make a wayfinding system work better. A symbol can be a reminder of history and a functional directional guide at the same time. The Calgary +15 Pedestrian skywalk symbol (bridges and walkways are 15 feet above grade) combines references to the city history and culture (local native Blackfoot star constellation circles, traditional white rodeo hat symbol) to establish a symbol that participates in all aspects of the wayfinding system. Circle patterns are also used to indicate the walking path on +15 maps, and are inlaid into the floors in contrasting materials to indicate the actual walkways. The consistent use of the circle patterns become familiar +15 wayfinding information and is a reference to Calgary history.
Basic goals when designing a wayfinding system should include communicating to a multilingual audience, creating images that are appropriate and legible, utilizing the third dimension, and developing a unique system with a refined aesthetic that functions well and can endure the test of time if required.
© Lance Wyman