Railway Rules:

Image Content Origins of Wayfinding Pictograms from the 1960s and 1970s


  • Wibo Bakker




Wayfinding pictograms are sometimes seen as “words” of a “visual language.” This research investigates for 52 common referents in which organizations and domains these words originated. This research is on the pioneer period of wayfinding pictogram development, 1963–1974, using a set of 24 pictogram systems. The results shows that the image contents of most common pictograms that we use today were introduced in only three years’ time by transport organizations. Olympic events and world exhibitions played a minor role in this process. Known designers probably focused more on improving the visual perception and consistency of a pictogram set. A comparison of image contents of pictogram systems from 1963–1974 with two more recent systems suggests there has hardly been any evolution in contents since.

Author Biography

Wibo Bakker

Wibo Bakker (1974) is a Dutch design researcher and educator, specialized in design research, design methodology, and design history. Between 2014 and 2020 he was associate-professor and program-director at the Industrial Design Department of the Xi’an Jiaotong–Liverpool University in Suzhou, China. Earlier he worked at several Dutch and Belgium art colleges and universities, most notably as a researcher at the Research Group Visual Rhetoric of AKV|St. Joost (Avans University of Applied Sciences) in Breda. Earlier Bakker studied graphic design at the ArtEZ Institute of the Arts in Arnhem, and worked for several years as a designer. Later he obtained a BA and MA in Language and Culture Studies, followed by a PhD in Art History (2009) at Utrecht University, dedicated to the development of visual identity, design agencies, and modernism in the Netherlands (1960-1975). For this thesis he won the Jan van Gelder prize of the Dutch Society for Art Historians. It was published by 010 Publishers (Rotterdam) in the prestigious Prince Bernhard Fund for Culture ‘Visual Culture in the Netherlands’ series, and was also translated in Chinese. Currently he is working on a book about pictogram history and development.





Journal Article