A theme—“The young of the world united in friendship through understanding”—was adopted by the organizing committee of the Nineteenth Olympiad in Mexico City, chaired by Mexican architect Pedro Ramírez Vázquez. Realizing that an effective information system encompassing environmental directions, visual identification, and publicity was needed, Vázquez assembled an international design team, with American Lance Wyman as director of graphic design and British industrial designer Peter Murdoch as director of special products.
Because the Nineteenth Olympiad took place in and around Mexico City itself, rather than in a special location built for the purpose, the design system had to be deployed throughout one of the world’s largest cities. Traffic control, urban logistics, and a multilingual audience compounded the challenge. Wyman’s initial analysis of the problem determined that the solution should reflect the cultural heritage of Mexico. An exhaustive study of ancient Aztec artifacts and Mexican folk art led him to employ two design ideas: the use of repeated multiple lines to form patterns and the use of bright, pure hues. Throughout the country, arts and crafts, adobe homes, paper flowers, marketplaces, and clothing sang with joyous, pure color, and this exuberant color spirit figured prominently in Wyman’s planning.
Designing a logotype for the Olympiad formed a basis for the further evolution of the design program. The five rings of the Olympiad symbol were overlapped and merged with the numeral 68 and then combined with the word Mexico. The repeated-stripe pattern observed in traditional Mexican art was used to form the letters. Following development of the logotype, Wyman extended it into a display typeface that could be applied to a range of graphics, from tickets to billboards and from uniform patches to giant color-coded balloons hovering over the arenas. The system encompassed pictographic symbols for athletic and cultural events, formats for the Department of Publications, site identification, directional signs for implementation by the Department of Urban Design throughout the city, informational posters, maps, postage stamps, film titles, and television spots.
For the exterior environmental signage, Wyman and Murdoch collaborated on the development of a complete system of modular functional components with interchangeable parts. These combined directional and identification signage with pictures of objects such as mailboxes, telephones, and water fountains. This design system was so effective that the New York Times proclaimed, “You can be illiterate in all languages and still navigate the surroundings successfully, so long as you are not color-blind.”
Wyman’s goal was to create a completely unified design system easily understood by people of all language backgrounds and flexible enough to meet a vast range of applications. Measured in terms of graphic originality, innovative functional application, and its value to thousands of visitors to the Mexican Olympiad, the graphic design system developed by Wyman and his associates in Mexico was one of the most successful in the evolution of visual identification. After completing the two-year Olympiad project, Wyman returned to New York City and reestablished his design firm, where he applied the expertise gained on the Mexican project to comprehensive design programs for shopping plazas and zoos.