Collection by Diana Budds

How New York City Developed its Wayfinding Signage

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Our City Living issue, due out on newsstands September 10, focuses on design and architecture in urban locales. Here we turn our eye to the challenges of navigating a city and how graphic design can improve the experience, especially when it comes to walkability. As more cities seek to encourage multi-modal transportation—walking, biking, public transit, etc.—the need for good signage to make those activities easier becomes more and more apparent. At its simplest, wayfinding is defined as spatial problem solving—knowing where you are, where you want to go, and the best route to get there. Cartography, or mapmaking, has existed for thousands of years, tracing its roots to cave paintings, but the demands of modern cities and diverse populations call for more than a sign emblazoned with compass rose and a few street names. Today, effective urban maps require layers of information relayed in a clear, consistent, and concise manner so that anyone can quickly assess how to get from point A to point B.

The New York Department of Transportation launched its WalkNYC program in the summer of 2013 to "provide a clear visual language and graphic standards that can be universally understood, encourage walking and transit usage by offering quality multi-modal information, and provide consistent information across a broad range of environments in the city." Lauded design firm Pentagram's PentaCityGroup developed the identity. We sent a few queries to Michael Bierut, a graphic designer and partner at the firm, to lean more about the program, what it means for the city's identity, and how technology does and doesn't factor into the program. "I feel strongly that one of the best things about the signs are that you don't need a smart phone to access them: they're right there on the street, as democratic as can be," he says. Read on for more.

Dwell: First off, when did modern wayfinding come about? What large-scale historic and present-day wayfinding projects...
Dwell: Can you tell us about some of the components of the signs? How did you pick the landmarks to feature? What was...
Dwell: How many icons did you design for the map? How did you adapt the standard AIGA Symbol Signs for this project?...
Bierut (continued): We created some new icons and modified others, for instance changing a generic "gift shop" icon to...
Dwell: How have smartphones changed the ways people navigate cities? Did that impact the WalkNYC...
Dwell: How did Universal Design factor into...
Dwell: In addition to spatial distances, you've also depicted walking times.
Dwell: The PentaCityGroup will eventually expand the system to include new print, mobile, and digital media...
Bierut is part of an interdisciplinary team called the PentaCityGroup, which is comprised of the following design firms...
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