WalkNYC Pedestrian Wayfinding

Merit Award 2016

Finding one’s way through the streets of New York when coming up out of the subway or walking through an unfamiliar neighborhood can be confusing, even for the most seasoned New Yorker. WalkNYC is a new program of pedestrian maps that makes it easier for New York’s 8.5 million residents and 50 million yearly visitors to navigate the city streets. The maps were developed by a special consortium of designers, including wayfinding specialists, graphic designers, industrial designers, urban planners and geographic information specialists, called PentaCityGroup, who worked in close collaboration with the New York City Department of Transportation, the city’s local Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and other agencies.

Placed on a system of dedicated kiosks throughout the city, the maps are designed to encourage people to walk, bike and use public transit, and to help guide them to major landmarks and destinations, as well as subway, bus and bicycle-share stations. Each side of the 8.5-ft.- 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 maps use an innovative “heads-up” orientation, in which the compass direction (north, south, east or west) is rotated to correspond with the direction the user is facing. The information and design were extensively tested with pedestrians, who found it easy to use.

The graphic language of the maps utilizes a customized version of Helvetica, chosen to complement the iconic graphic language of the New York City subway system and to create a seamless dissemination of information above and below ground. WalkNYC’s customized version, called Helvetica DOT, makes all of the font’s square dots round, giving the program its own unique look. To create a common visual language throughout the program, a set of 60 pictograms was designed, each drawn to match specific characteristics of Helvetica DOT.

The maps also feature iconic New York landmarks, like the Empire State Building and One World Trade Center, rendered as detailed, evocative line drawings. The program’s palette is inspired by the colors of the city: the yellow crosswalk lights, green parks and bike lanes, white crosswalks and gray streets and sidewalks.

This design has also been applied to WalkNYC’s graphic identity. The logo appears at the bottom of the new signs and is used to endorse any maps that use the graphic language of the program as “official” city maps. City agencies and BIDs can utilize the mapping system in their own communications, and they have the ability to add their own data layers to their printed maps.

Since the first phase of the program was implemented in Midtown Manhattan, Prospect Heights in Brooklyn and Long Island City in Queens during the summer of 2013, WalkNYC has been extended to Select Bus Service signs, printed tourist maps and MTA Subway stations all over the city and its neighboring boroughs—creating a truly unified navigation system for New Yorkers and visitors alike.

Jury Comments: 

"A prototype setting a future language for all global cities. Informed travellers activate sidewalks and reinvigorate neighborhoods."

Design Firm: 

PentaCityGroup (consortium)


New York City Department of Transportation

Project Area: 

Manhattan and neighboring boroughs

Open Date: 

June 2013

Project Budget: 


Photo Credits: 

Martin Seck, Hamish Smyth

Design Team: 

CityID (lead designers, wayfinding specialists): Mike Rawlinson (design director); Harriet Hand, David Gillam (senior designers); Jason Smith (project director); Sam Coultrip (project manager); Liam Randall, Stacy Zung, Matt Jephcote (designers); Jenny Janssen (information planner); Rachel Abrams (specialist advisor)

Pentagram (graphic design): Michael Bierut (partner in charge); Tracey Cameron, Hamish Smyth (senior designers); Jesse Reed (designer); Tamara McKenna (project manager)

Billings Jackson Design (industrial designers): Duncan Jackson, Eoin Billings, Paul Leonard (partners); Aidan Jamison, Dale Newton, Simon Kristak (senior designers)

RBA Group (engineers and contract managers)

T-Kartor (GIS developers and cartographers)



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