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.

Posted in Olympics, Pictograms | 1 Comment

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health. Thanks to everyone who has visited this site.

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A helper monkey made this abstract painting, inspired by my stats.

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 10,000 times in 2010. That’s about 24 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 20 new posts, not bad for the first year! There were 12 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 3mb. That’s about a picture per month.

The busiest day of the year was September 7th with 134 views. The most popular post that day was Pictograms, International Communication and Cultural Diversity (Part 3).

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were twitter.com, arrowsandicons.com , and digg.com .

Some visitors came searching, mostly for pictograms, pictogram, toxic symbol, piktogramme, and airport pictogram.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


Pictograms, International Communication and Cultural Diversity (Part 3) July 2010


Pictograms, International Communication and Cultural Diversity (Part 1) June 2010


Pictograms, International Communication and Cultural Diversity (Part 2) June 2010
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Pictograms, International Communication and Cultural Diversity (Part 4) September 2010


Place identity and architectural signage – the best from the UK May 2010
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Musing 006

Perception and Meaning
Following on from my previous musing on how we form a picture, I began thinking about how we create meaning from the things we see around us. Can we take what is there and distort or manipulate it to change its meaning? Is our perception of the things we see based just on what is in front of us…and how does what we already know affect our thought process? Just as situations can be misinterpreted or misread, people can view the same thing and see something totally different.

How do we interpret the things we see?

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Wayfinding and map creation…a different perspective (Part 2)

UK mapping products comparison continued…

Frequency Update
UkMap works on a 3 year cycle of updates. Retail use is surveyed every 12 months.

OS MasterMap
There are updates issued by the Ordnance Survey every 6 weeks for MasterMap, which means according to the OS, that the data is never more than 6 months out of date.

In this context functionality means the ease of utilising the data on a project.
UK map is a new product that not all users will be familiar with. The data structure is complex, based on primarily 5 fields from which the data classification of land use can be symbolized. There are also 2 other fields which allow the symbolizing of Points of Interest and Retail Classification. The complex feature coding system allows for multi-level classification of data, breaking land uses down into sub-classes The land use classification requires a degree of work being able to employ these classifications with symbolizing the data, but once done once can be applied to future versions of UKMap data.

OS MasterMap
MasterMap is an established product so will be easily recognisable to users as will the structure of the data. The data structure is relatively simple, based on primarily 2 fields from which the data classification of land use can be symbolized. This makes the data easy to use straight away but limits the actual number of classifications and levels of classification available.

Delivery Format
The delivery format of UKMap is in Industry standard GIS file formats so are easily read into most GIS packages, which will also make the receiving of updates and integration into the existing dataset easier.

OS MasterMap
The delivery format of OS MasterMap is GZ this is a zipped GML dataset (Geographic Markup Language), this is an open source format but is not easily opened in any of the major GIS packages. This means that a conversion process is required before it can be brought into a GIS or Graphics package.

Overall Advantages of using GIS
The last point brings me to another observation, I am obviously biased but I can’t understand as to why GIS is not utilised by the some of the wayfinding industry. The advantages to the creation of base maps are numerous;
Symbolise by Attribute: By using the products above you are able to apply a palette of colours to the map based on the land use, rather than the selecting of individual parcels and applying a shading to them. Line weights, hatching density etc. can be applied based on the attributes of the data.
More available data: GIS is a convergent technology, by which I mean that it is able to read multiple file spatial formats, including, dxf, dwg, dgn, kml/kmz (Google Earth) to name a few non-GIS formats. There are an amazing range of datasets that are available in GIS, rangimg from base mapping at a huge range of scales, socio-economic, demographic, and environmental datasets.
Export to Illustrator: Once the data has been set up and layered within GIS it can be exported straight out .ai format.

GIS is often thought of as an expensive option and the mainstream well known packages ArcGIS and MapInfo are pricey but there are many other cheaper options. QGIS is free, Manifold GIS is available for around £250 depending n the exchange rate. Both are able to do the simple tasks and match the expensive product options. Manifold is a personal favourite of mine and I often use it in preference over ArcGIS and MapInfo.

Author Bio
Damien is a GIS professional who has recently begun to move into a more technological consultancy role. His background is a BSc in physical geography and an MSc in Land Information Management and Mapping. He has worked in many sectors, including Urban Design, Transport, Environment, Demographics and Flood Modelling. Through this work he has been granted fellowships with the British Cartographic Society and the Royal Geographic Society and has also been chartered by the latter. He has his own blog on all things geospatial where he collates his thoughts, some coherent some less less so (his own words). Visit http://geospatialandtechnology.blogspot.com/ for more information.

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Wayfinding and map creation…a different perspective (Part 1)

On a recent project, one of my tasks was to help create wayfinding maps for a city centre. During my three years working as an information designer I have only ever drawn diagrammatic maps of buildings and never map information based on geographical data. The only time I had ever drawn a city map was back at university when I traced every street and key buildings in Illustrator. So when I was first given the task, I wasn’t sure where to start. I thought a good place to start would be the company’s GIS team. I knew little about the capabilities of GIS software or exactly how it could help me on the project and likewise the GIS team knew little about how I was going to use and manipulate the data they provided me with.

Mapping products and creating wayfinding maps
An article by guest writer Damien McCloud.

As a newcomer to the Wayfinding Industry I thought I would give a couple of observations I have made in my short time in the field to date. So far I have only worked within the UK and only on a couple of projects so firstly, apologies if I’ve got it all wrong……My main observation is that there is a surprising lack of knowledge and awareness of the availability of base mapping products that can be used to drive the map creation. For external wayfinding maps there is a wide range of freely available (OpenOS data) and paid for products (OS MasterMap and UK Map). This data can be used as the driver for creating external wayfinding cartographic products. By having and understanding and employing these products it should simplify the first stages of putting together any map in the UK. With some of these products with now clarified ‘derived data’ definitions from the OS, tracing can be done legally to construct the base structure of a product and to extract the key elements required.

The aforementioned may happen, but the licensing of a chosen product and the issues of what constitutes derived data and the surrounding licensing are not widely understood or known. For a project to be successful and ‘legal’ these have to be fully understood before anything is deployed, I am not entirely sure this happens 100% of the time. The Ordnance Survey has clarified these in recent weeks which can only be a good thing. By having a full understanding of the mapping available and legal boundaries to its use, dramatic time savings and so reduced costs can be introduced to a project.

UK mapping products comparison
The two main products in the UK that will be of use are the Ordnance Survey Master Map and Citilabs UK Map. These two can be used to automate and create detailed base maps very easily using predetermined colour schemes based on land use.

What’s delivered
UKMap is made up of a suite of layers, although these all come as standard. These layers are:

  • Base – Topographic Map Layer
  • Overlay – Contains features that overlap those in the base layer, e.g. tree canopies, power lines etc.
  • Points – provides the linkage between the attribute tables of UKMap
  • Height – Height data for all buildings shown in the Base layer
  • Points of Interest
  • Ortho (Detailed aerial photography)
  • Terrain (land heights)


OS MasterMap
OS is brought by the product, the topographic layer comes on its own as a discrete product.

OS MasterMap
OS Mastermap

UKMap covers only the London Urban Area (see below) and is captured at 1:1000 scale.

UKMap 1:1000
UKMap 1:1000

OS MasterMap
OS MasterMap covers the entire UK, with the urban areas captured at 1:1250 scale and the rural areas captured at 1:2500 Scale.

Click here for Part 2

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Musing 005

Forming a Picture
When trying to understand an environment we form our own mental image of the surrounding area, but how is this picture formed? How do we take the snippets of information we see and process them? Is it as simple as piecing a jigsaw puzzle? If there are gaps do we still read the information? In some instances we can form a good picture without having 100% of the information, but this can also lead to a misinterpretation. For numberous reasons I have always found Austin Kleon’s blackout poems intriguing, but in this context it helps to demonstrate that by manipulating information and keeping some elements hidden, you can change the original intention, meaning and context.

Many aspects of wayfinding include the manipulation of information, a manipulation that encourages and area or an environment to be used and navigated in a specific way. We hide information for the benefit of the user, but is this also a form of deception? For example, living in London for 3 years now I know that in some instances if I ignored the information presented to me on the underground network and used different passageways at interchanges, I might actually be able to cut down the distance I travel. In some wayfinding scenarios, manipulating information and forming a false image can help to process and manage people and their movement. How wayfinding designers choose to form a picture is key and can vary greatly in different scenarios.

How do we see and interpret the information given to us?

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Two Fonts, One Airport

On a recent trip to Ireland I ventured through a London airport. After a tasty breakfast and a spot of tax free shopping I decided to inspect the signage a little closer. I had little trouble using the signage. The directions were relatively clear and simple, but inspect a little closer the fonts used on some of the signage. At various points throughout my journey the font changed quite drastically from a serif to a sans serif font. Whether this has anything to do with old/new signage I do not know, but this lack of attention to detail is one of my pet hates. With a little thought and attention to detail good wayfinding system can easily be achieved, so why so often is it not quite right?

Gates Directional
Gates 40 – 59 shown in different font

Posted in Airports, Signage, Typography, Wayfinding | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Musing 004

What is logic?
After thinking about zoning I moved on to thinking about logic and how we can piece an environment together in a way that speaks clearly to the people who use it. What exactly is logic? Is it naturally occurring or something that is forced? Can it be encouraged? Is it based on the absolute truth? What is it influenced by? Can it be rationalised?

Some definitions of the word logic.

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Musing 003

Thinking about the concept of zones I began to question how zones are devised and how useful they are. Can you force logic? Can you force an identity on an area or environment? Is knowing what zone you are in enough to orientate oneself? Is zoning the answer to all wayfinding problems?

Some examples of zoning and related quotes.

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Musing 002

Breaking down information
After attending an SDS talk by David Gibson a few months ago, it got me thinking about how wayfinding designers make complicated environments seem more approachable and inviting. How can we divide up information about and area so that it is easier to assimilate?

David Gibsons’ four ways of dividing an area.

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