NEW YORK — More than three decades ago, Lance Wyman designed the Metro map’s iconic interlocking colored lines, which have become the symbol of the transit system for millions of Washington commuters and tourists. Now he’s been hired to give it a makeover.
It is a challenge for the 73-year-old graphic designer. He has to find a way to add the new rail line to Dulles International Airport and integrate other changes to the map without ruining the classic, clean look.
Lance Wyman, 73, of New York designed the Metrorail system's map more than 30 years ago. Under a deal worth up to $50,000, the graphic designer has been hired to reinvent it. He'll have challenges, including adding on the new line to Dulles International Airport and integrating other changes to the map, without ruining its clean, classic look. Many Metro riders and officials at the transit agency are watching closely. Wyman is well known for designing symbols and logos for other spots in the District, including the National Zoo, the old Convention Center, the Library of Congress, and at kiosks maps along the National Mall.
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“I get nervous,” Wyman said when he considered everything he’s been asked to accomplish. “We did that original one almost 40 years ago. It is amazing that it stuck.”
It isn’t uncommon for transit maps to go through revisions. London’s 148-year-old subway system has seen its map go through updates, and New York has done two major redesigns in just over a decade. But the original designer seldomly gets a chance to revise the concept.
In the world of graphic arts, Wyman is a rock star. He made his reputation after he designed the bold typeface and geometric logo for the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. He’s also made his mark on Washington, having done designs for many well-known spots.
He created icons for museums and monuments in the District that were once used on map kiosks and banners along the Mall. His signs to identify animals still adorn the elephant, ape and small-mammal house at the National Zoo. A logo for the old Washington Convention Center was his, as was an icon for some reading rooms at the Library of Congress. But none of Wyman’s other designs has withstood time as well as his original Metro map.
With its five bold lines overlaid across the Washington area, the Metro map has become a marketing tool that’s plastered on ads for apartment buildings and pamphlets. It’s a recognizable symbol for most anyone who’s ever ridden the region’s subway. In changing it, Wyman is embarking on a redesign that’s fraught with peril.
Designers say his job is the equivalent of trying to make a new label to replace the distinct red and white of the Campbell’s soup can. Chances of success are few, and the likelihood of a flop is great, especially given public scrutiny of the Metro system.
“It’s like trying to redo the Nike swoosh,” said Zachary M. Schrag, associate professor of history at George Mason University and author of “The Great Society Subway,” a history of the Washington area’s Metro. “You have something that’s so recognizable that you don’t want to tinker with it too much, but at the same time you have to upgrade it.”
About three months ago, a senior executive for Metro called Wyman and asked if he’d be interested in redoing the map. He agreed, under a contract worth up to $50,000. Since then, he’s visited the District twice to meet with Metro officials and discuss what he’ll need to incorporate into the new rendition.
“He’s really an expert at this,” said Lynn Bowersox, Metro’s managing director of public relations. “This is art-slash-science. That’s why we brought him back for this. He’s really iconic.”