Design as an Olympic Ambassador

How do you communicate something effectively and concisely to people who don’t share a common language?

Don’t rely on language.

Mexico 1968 Olympics graphic design

Wyman’s Wordless Wayfinding

The fact that good design doesn’t always require words is especially relevant at a major international event like the Olympic Games, where visitors who speak dozens of different languages are trying to find their way around.

“A person who doesn’t speak the local language is just as illiterate in a strange country as someone who can’t read at all. We’re all illiterate if we don’t understand how information is presented.”

–Lance Wyman

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It was on this foundation that the 1968 Mexico City Olympics graphic design team, lead by Lance Wyman, built a system of pictograms and color coding into the event branding.

Mexico Olympics branding

Mexico City Olympics 1968 branding

Mexico City Olympics 1968 branding

Even with less translation, information became accessible to more people. You didn’t need to know Spanish or French or English, because coordinated tickets, signs, banners, and information kiosks would guide you to the right venue and all the way to your seat.

Mexico '68 Olympics ticket

“As Wyman says, ‘Graphic design became an important visual ambassador.’ […] The clear pictograms and distinctive colors […] helped to reinforce a sense of place and create a memorable Mexican identity.”

–Garry Emery

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A Mark for a Modern Mexico

For all the non-verbal signage, the logo itself is the most text-focused of any Olympic City. The lines of the stylized “Mexico 68” were inspired in part by pre-Colombian Huichol art, yet the overall effect is mod 1960s.

Mexico 68 Olympics logo

“Has any design scheme so perfectly caught the graphic spirit of the times […] ? [Wyman and his collaborators] worked out a geometric fantasia of concentric stripe patterns that expanded to engulf a custom alphabet, groovy minidresses, and eventually entire stadia.”

Michael Bierut

Mexico Olympics dresses
Mexico City Olympics 1968 branding

Wyman went on to head up the design for Mexico City’s Metro, giving each stop its own pictogram.

Mexico Olympics branding

More information:

Mexico City Olympics 1968 branding

Images by Lance Wyman via Graphic Ambient.