walkNYC pedestrian maps by the pentacitygroup walkNYC pedestrian maps by the pentacitygroup
jun 27, 2013

walkNYC pedestrian maps by the pentacitygroup

top image: walkNYC pedestrian maps kiosk by the pentacitygroup


the new york city department of transportation (DOT) has introduced walkNYC, a new program of pedestrian maps designed by the pentacitygroup, a special consortium of designers that includes pentagram‘s new york office, wayfinding specialists cityID, industrial designers billings jackson design, engineers and urban planners RBA group, and cartographers and geographic information specialists t-kartor. the team worked closely with DOT and the city’s local Business Improvement Districts (BID) and other institutions and agencies to develop the program.



the kiosks present two maps, one of local streets and the other of the area’s location in relation to a larger section of the city.



pentagram have been working on the project since the late summer of 2011 and were responsible for a unique system of icons for the maps, including the drawings of the landmark buildings. the graphics use a custom version of helvetica created by monotype for the program. helvetica was chosen to complement the iconic graphic language of the new york city subway system, originally developed by massimo vignelli and robert noorda at unimark. walkNYC’s customized version, helvetica DOT, makes all of the font’s square dots round, giving the program its own look.


‘we thought long and hard before we committed to using helvetica, and sampled a number of different typographic approaches first. but the helvetica approach was just so authoritative and so ‘new york looking’ (and it’s a swiss typeface, of course), that it was too hard for all of us to resist. having the pedestrian wayfinding, the new bikeshare program, and the subways all seem to work together reinforces the goals of the DOT and commissioner janette sadik-khan to create a system that acknowledges all the different ways we move around the city.’ – michael bierut



user testing of a prototype.



the maps are printed on clear vinyl, which is applied to the second surface of the glass.



the maps use a ‘heads up’ orientation that corresponds to the direction the user is facing.



each side of the 8 ½ foot tall kiosks displays a large map of the streets within a 5-minute walking distance and another map showing the area in relation to a larger section of the city. the orientation of the walkNYC maps uses ‘heads-up mapping’ in which north, south, east or west is rotated to correspond with the direction the user is facing. if you’re facing south in manhattan, the top of the map is downtown, and the bottom is uptown; on the other side of the map, the information is reversed. the design was extensively tested with pedestrians, who found it easy to use; in the city, it is often hard to know which direction one is facing.






a range of kiosk and signage types have been designed for the various urban environments and locations around the city (at intersections, mid-block, in plazas, etc.) the maps are printed on clear vinyl, which is applied to the second surface of the glass. the vinyl is easily removed and the glass reused for any updates to the map.


‘the biggest lesson for me was how unique it is to do wayfinding in a major urban area like new york. wayfinding for an airport, as challenging as it can be, has fairly simple goals: get the departing passengers to their gates, and get the arriving passengers to baggage claim. the goal of an urban wayfinding program is no less than exposing everything the city has to offer to anyone, coming from any direction, going towards any destination. where do you put the signs? how much do you say? how do you say it? you have to anticipate the needs of millions of users, no two of which will have exactly the same frame of mind.’ – michael bierut



a range of signage types has been developed for different urban environments.



hierarchy of information on a sign.



a customized version of helvetica was created for the program…



which replaces the square dots of helvetica with round ones.



placement of building labels.



icons designed by pentagram for the program were drawn to match details in 18 pt. helvetica DOT.



a selection of the new icons.



illustrations of landmarks created for the maps.



icons for the pepsi-cola sign, the chrysler building, manhattan bridge and the soldiers and sailors memorial arch.



the landmarks are layered into other information on the map. subways are indicated by tabs that resemble station signs.



‘you’ icon that locates the user on the map.



the color palette is inspired by the colors of the city.



how information is arranged on the maps.











WalkNYC logo


‘you’ icon on the back of a t-shirt.


pentagram also designed the graphic identity for the program. the logo appears at the bottom of the new signs, and will eventually be used to endorse any maps that use graphic language of the program as ‘official’ city maps.


this past monday DOT commissioner janette sadik-khan unveiled the initiative’s first signs at a news conference in chinatown, where four maps were installed over the weekend. in addition to chinatown, the first phase of the program will be implemented this summer in midtown manhattan, prospect heights in brooklyn, and long island city in queens, with more to follow next year in other parts of the city. the maps are already installed on over 300 kiosks of the citibike bike-share program.



project team


michael bierut, partner-in-charge and designer; tracey cameron and hamish smyth, designers; jesse reed, icon designer; tamara mckenna, project manager.


mike rawlinson, harriet hand, david gilliam, sam coultrip, rachel abrams, matt jephcote, jason smith and jenny janssen.


david figueroa, charu kukreja, wendy bell, kathryn green, rich perkins, jeff vonderheide, hanna lindahl and thilda garö.


RBA group
jackson wandres, chris lucas, klaus weidemann and kevin ballantyne.
billings jackson design: duncan jackson, eoin billings, paul leonard, aidan jamison, dale newton and simon kristak.

  • Very nice work to look at. I think it has a great commercial value aswell. I see a poster webstore and a coffee table book with all maps nicely printed. Very attractive!

    Ro says:
  • How about, CONSISTENTLY, on all maps:
    — a north arrow
    — indications of the Direction of “uptown”, “downtown”, “east-side” , “west side” [That might be integrated into the north-arrow, or a separately.]

    Seth Joseph Weine says:
  • Very nicely done in many respects. Will look fresh and informative for a couple of decades, at least. Using just line for notable buildings is inspired.I find the letter spacing a bit tight at times—unnecessarily so. In the examples, “China” in “Chinatown” is a blur and so is “District.” But resolution at full size might be OK.

    Question: Who defines what’s notable, what gets labelled? The Commissioner? Should be a small, bright committee of an architectural historian, a cultural historian, a tourism official, and a New York weekly magazine editor.

    Mort d'Urban says:
  • I absolutely love this wayfinding approach, particularly the imposition of a circle showing what is within X minutes on foot. (I proposed a wayfinding scheme based on this idea to a large hotel chain five years ago–no dice). Two questions:
    1. Does the arrow on the “you” box always point in the direction “you” are looking in when you read it?
    2. Is there any downside to adopting Ro’s idea (above)? It seems it would be simple to add the Direction copy, particularly if it were added to each side of a “frame” for the map. But these are tiny issues. I love the idea as a whole. Congratulations to all involved.

    Mac McDougal says:
  • Very handsome and it appears to be most logical and easy to understand especially with the simple (but helpful to me) idea of the heads up viewing of the map. One will know which way they are oriented on the map and the rest of the information is easy to understand from there.

    Beautiful design. Strikingly handsome and its addition to the street furniture is a lovely addition!

    Ron Smith says:
  • Also, and this is carrying it a bit far, I would love to see this format and design adopted all over the country as our traffic signs are used by all.

    Ron Smith says:
  • The signs look very “European” in my opinion, maybe German.

    adolf witzeling says:
  • Very nice done. I can imagine how great they look in the streets. Thank you for sharing.

    Bendesign says:
  • i love it! beautiful details.

    flavia c says:
  • Pentagram have again delivered a quiet, distilled, zen like resolution to ‘wayfinding’ that is clear, concise and beautiful… Amidst all the clutter, shine theses beacons of calm reassurance… You are not lost and bewildered… You are here.
    Bravo Pentagram!

    Alfons says:
  • The north arrow on every map is different. Is so confusing.

    Peter says:

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