Pictograms, International Communication and Cultural Diversity (Lance Wyman Case Study – Mexico 68)


Case Study – The Work of Lance Wyman
It is arguable that the set of Mexico 68 Olympic pictograms are one of the best there has ever been. Created by Lance Wyman along with Manuel Villazón and Matthias Goeritz, these pictograms were much more than great pieces of information design. They did not just point visitors in the right direction. They told a story of Mexican history and of art culture popular at that time. They demonstrate how pictograms aimed at an international audience can also have cultural identity injected into their design and that pictogram design does not have be governed by strict rules.

Mexico 68 Olympic Pictograms
Mexico 68 Olympic Pictograms

The graphic system for the Mexico 1968 Olympic games is cited as one of the most successful in the evolution of visual identification. The work Lance Wyman continued to create in and around Mexico after the Olympics of 1968 demonstrates how pictograms have the potential to break free from standardisation and become a little more exciting. In in D&AD lecture I attended in November 2006, Wyman suggested that bringing culture into pictograms is always tricky. You have to be very sensitive to that culture, but it can be so enriching and rewarding if it works. He also described how he took a different approach to the pictograms from the very start.

“The sports icons focused on an expressive detail, a part of the athletes body or a piece of equipment…”

According to Abdullah in his book Pictograms, Icons and Signs, the Mexico 68 pictograms used a very different pictorial language to their predecessors, subsequently making a more striking impact. Less detail was required, making the symbols more compact and closed. The pictograms, unlike many other Olympic pictograms, were very colourful. The bright vibrancy became a characteristic of the marketing for the Olympics of 1968. Lance Wyman, of course, did not come up with these ideas by chance. Inspiration came from several sources.

“The Mexico 1968 logotype, based on traditional forms from Mexican culture as well as being 60’s Op-art kinetic typography, set the tone for the entire graphics system.”

Mexico 68 Op Art Mexico 68 Op Art
Op Art Inspired Designs (left) Work of Bridget Riley (right)

Mexico 68 Pre Hispanic Inspired Mexico 68 Pre Hispanic Art Mexico 68 Pre Hispanic Glyph
Mexico 68 Pre-Hispanic Inspired Designs (left) Pre-Hispanic Art and Glyphs(right)

Op-art, although not so prominent in the pictograms, was clearly influential in many areas of the games, especially the logotype. At a lecture I attended back in 2006 Wyman clearly stated that the work of Bridget Riley was extremely influential to him at the time. Inspiration can also be seen from Mexican history in the form of Pre-Hispanic culture and Huichol Indian art. This carries through to the design of the pictograms, where Pre Hispanic glyphs show close similarities to the designs. Wyman also described how he spent a lot of time in the Museum of Anthropology and that he found early Mexican cultures extremely captivating. It was his intention to inject this Mexican culture into the design of the pictograms and the whole Olympic Games.

Wyman used pictograms extensively in the design of the games. He not only created pictograms for the individual sports, but also constructed cultural and service symbols and pictogram designs for tickets.

“A visual language was used in place of words to communicate effectively with the international participants of the Olympics. Icons identified services, literal silhouettes…identified seating accommodations and the competition areas for the athletes in the arenas.”

Mexico 68 Tickets Mexico 68 Seating Pictograms
Mexico 68 Tickets (left) Stadium Pictograms for Seating (right)

Sign systems and street furniture were created to guide people around the city. The way in which some of the three dimensional elements were designed was also linked to artifacts found in Tula. Almost like a totem pole, elements of street furniture were stacked and pieced together like a jigsaw. A unique system of pictograms was devised to guide people to their seats in Olympic stadiums. The time was indicated using a analogue clock face and the sporting event using the relevant pictogram. Symbols withing the arena’s environment matched up with symbols on the tickets, to create a visual language that made sense to people from all backgrounds.

Statues at Tula Mexico 68 Frame Units
Statues at Tula (left) Frame Units for Directional SIgns (right)

This system was so simple that even the illiterate would be able to understand its commands. Wyman went to great lengths to ensure all his designs would not only be a great representation of Mexico, but would also be accessible to everyone, regardless of sex, age, race or education. The Mexico 1968 pictograms successfully showed that pictograms can display cultural identity and communicate to an international audience. The work that Wyman did was so successful that he used similar tactics in other work he created for Mexico.

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One Response to Pictograms, International Communication and Cultural Diversity (Lance Wyman Case Study – Mexico 68)

  1. Pingback: Goshen Commons | Where a city meets for conversation | Symbols Speak Universal Language With Local Flair

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