Mexico City Metro
Over reading week in early February I was luck enough to spend ten days in Mexico. I first flew into Mexico City and then traveled on to spend the rest of my time in Oaxaca. I met my mother in Mexico City (or as it’s often referred to the DF) and we spent a long weekend packing in as many sites and museums as we could possibly fit. We have both spent a lot of time in Mexico and speak Spanish fluently so we felt quite comfortable taking public transit whenever possible. While on the Metro I couldn’t help but notice the signage for the different stops. Not only were the names of the stations indicated but they were accompanied by an image as well. If I had not been currently taking I may have just thought, that’s a great idea and continued about my travels. But now, months later, it still pops into my head and so I decided to do a little research on the history of the Mexico City Metro and the way that they have signed their system.
Obviously the first step to any serious research project involves entering your search into Google and then reading the entry in Wikipedia. I was genuinely surprised that when I searched quite specifically “Mexico City Metro Low Literacy” to still be directed to Wikipedia. Under the heading of Lines and Stations I learned that each line provides one service and is a color that is used on all logos, maps, and signs. Beyond the color, each stations is also designated a symbol that is derived from the actual name of the station or the area surrounding it. This was intentionally done because at the time the Metro was constructed, the literacy rate was extremely low in 1967. This method was also used in Monterrey, Guadalajara and more recently for the bus system in Mexico City. The entry in Wikipedia ends by stating that, “Although logos are no longer necessary due to literacy being now widespread, their usage remained.” I would have to disagree with this last point. While literacy rates may have improved greatly, there are still people who stand to benefit from this system. In the time I was on the train, I witnessed many non-Spanish speakers relying heavily on the graphics to figure out where they were going. I think that every person is low literacy in some contexts. (All of this information from Wikipedia aligns with what is posted in Spanish on the official Mexico City Metro website. I will provide links for both at the bottom of the entry.)
Lance Wyman is the man responsible for the designs used in the Metro along with Arturo Quiñónez y Francisco Gallardo. Wyman had actually designed the symbol used for the Olympics held in Mexico in 1968 and because of this success he was again tapped to design the graphics for the Metro, which opened in 1969. As mentioned above, the direction he was given was to design a graphic that had to do with the name of the station or the surrounding area. Additionally, the name of the station had to be just one word and also had to relate to the area it was located in some way. Being involved in both of these projects was actually towards the beginning of his career and he went on to design the graphics for the Washingon DC Metro and the Rockefeller Family Fund among many, many others.
Wyman’s website is incredible! I highly recommend spending some time checking out all of the work that he has done. I’m also including a link to a case study on Wyman done by Web Esteem magazine. In this he talks about wayfinding systems, the value of symbols and how to avoid typical problems with them, navigating different languages and a short biography.