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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Wayfinding your way

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I was riding my bike through Forest Hill late at night recently when the neighbourhood street lights went out. Up until that point, I had only been paying as much attention as I needed to — keep going southwest, I told my brain's auto-pilot. But with the street lamps rendered useless, I turned to the street signs to guide me out of harm's way.

Living in the city, we often turn to the signs to find out whether we can do something or where we need to go: Can we park here? Where's Yonge? Watch out for kids chasing balls! These visual icons are called wayfinding signs, and their importance is usually lost on us until we travel someplace foreign and find ourselves needing a washroom, subway station, or phone booth.

While most of these symbols are becoming internationally recognizable, there are still weird local variations. In rural Quebec, for instance, you will see a warning sign with a hairy old man (God?) with puffed-up cheeks blowing air across a road to indicate an area is windy. Here in Toronto, street signs are occasionally modified: along Harbord Street just west of U of T, the icon of two school kids walking with their lunchboxes was altered to have them riding skateboards. On the eastern branch of Spadina Circle, just north of College Street, an outline of a circle has been placed around the waist of the pedestrian walking man, transforming him into jaunty hula-hooper.

Spacing challenged Toronto artist Marc Ngui to create new icons using his unique blend of social and political commentary to identify neighbourhoods and locations that were lacking the appropriate wayfinding signage.

Spacing has made the above illustrations available to you for download and use as you wish. You can make them into buttons, stickers, or t-shirts. You can even print them out and mount them yourself. The file is a PDF, originally created in Illustrator 10.

Download the Wayfinding PDF.

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