How do you communicate something effectively and concisely to people who don’t share a common language?
Don’t rely on language.
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.”
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.
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.
“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.”
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.
“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.”
Wyman went on to head up the design for Mexico City’s Metro, giving each stop its own pictogram.
- Graphic design and the 1968 Mexico City Olympics on segd.org.
- Lance Wyman’s career on FastCo.Design.
- Pentagram’s Michael Bierut discusses branding at the Olympics.
- Past, present, and future Olympic logos.
Images by Lance Wyman via Graphic Ambient.