No Translation Needed: Mexico City Metro Icons

Graphic design is one of those things that baffles me. I only arrive at something I can live with by accident. There's something about the precision and need to select from an infinite amount of possibilities that freaks me out and results in really lame graphics. I am a very visual person and I love photography, textile design and other types of design + creation, but ask me to pick a font and make it a particular color and I'll bolt.

Fortunately, there are people that truly excel at the graphic arts. I've seen Lance Wyman's work in many, many places but recently stumbled upon his work for the Mexico City subway system. Lance is an American graphic designer most known for his work on the 1968 Summer Olympic Games logo.

Designing icons for public transportation, especially in cities attractive to tourists, such as his design for the Washington DC metro map is tricky. It must be universally understood regardless of a visitor's native language. The graphics must communicate perfectly so people do not get confused (and lost), but also be aesthetically pleasing and, hopefully, reflect the ethos of the place. In this case study, Lance describes his process to create such wayfinding systems that describe, without written language, where we are, where we want to go, and how to get there.



If you have ever traveled, you know that figuring out the metro system is one of the first things you will have to do, and a key step to learning about the city. In designing the icons for the Mexico City metro system, Lance and his team set about creating a completely visual system, easily understood by anyone from anywhere, much like he had done for the 1968 Summer Olympics icons.

The inspiration for each icon stems from a historical image or structure that relates to the station itself. For example, The Bellas Artes station was inspired by the image of the Art Nouveau Palace of Fine arts and the Tlatelolco was inspired by a tower nearby the station. We love the methodology of these designs and can't wait to see what Lance does next! (Rumor has it he's working on a new map for the National Gallery of Art in DC).

Further exploration:


What about you--what's your favorite metro icon design? Tell us in the comments below!