by David Gibson
Many wayfinding designers are baby boomers whose political and environmental consciousness was informed by the futile Vietnam conflict and subsequent social ferment of the 1970s. Motivated by a sense of public communal mission and zeal for creative experimentation, they gradually moved the wayfinding field into the 21st century, building upon the foundation of experience established by earlier design pioneers over the course of the previous century.
War — World War II, that is — had an inadvertently positive impact on their careers as well, either by forcing talented Europeans, such as Alvin Lustig, to emigrate to North America, where opportunity awaited, or by providing art and design training to many a veteran, including John Follis of Pasadena, California.
During the 1960s Cold War period, critics, scholars, and designers felt an urgent need to humanize increasingly complex modern urban spaces. The design discipline that evolved in response has been called architectural graphics, signage or sign-system design, environmental graphic design, and wayfinding.
Names in Wayfinding
Over time, enterprising firms and individuals, such as Lance Wyman, who won early acclaim for his Mexico '68 Olympics symbols, began to specialize in sign-system design. Some firms offered wayfinding design in tandem with other services, including exhibition, product, interior, and corporate-identity design, the latter the precursor of branding services.
The long and notable list of principals of pioneering American firms includes Ivan Chermayeff, Tom Geismar, Rudolph de Harak, and Lella and Massimo Vignelli. Their contemporaries in the United Kingdom included founding partners of Pentagram, now a global collaborative, as well as the venerable designer F.H.K. Henrion.
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This article is excerpted from The Wayfinding Handbook by David Gibson, copyright © 2009, with permission of the publisher, Princeton Architectural Press.
A folded metal sign outside the City Museum in Melbourne, Australia, identifies the building from afar.
Photo: emerystudio Australia/ Courtesy Princeton Architectural Press
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The subway entrance at Wembley Park Station in London, United Kingdom.
Photo: Jamie Fake/ Courtesy P.A. Press
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