Think back to the last trip you took: images of new things you saw may pop up, anything from an imposing tall building down to an unusual menu design. And if you traveled beyond the U.S., you may have noticed that the set of walk/don’t walk signals in each country has its own distinctive look. In Germany, Berlin went even further, with a signal design unique and specific to the city itself—a case in point for the power of design, even in seemingly mundane objects.
Despite much joy over reunification of Germany in the early 1990s, the change was bittersweet for many former East Germans, who saw not only a border, but their culture, dissolving. Even their beloved crosswalk signals, jaunty red and green figures in wide-brimmed hats known as Ampelmännchen (traffic light men), were making way for their western cousins. Leave it to a designer to understand the power of this pair of East German icons, and to lead the effort to keep them on duty! Product designer Markus Heckhausen collaborated with the figures’ original designer, Karl Peglau, to shepherd the return of the little men to their posts (including navigating German bureaucracy), and there they have remained, more beloved than ever, and a symbol of united Berlin. Over time, other German cities have designed crosswalk signals celebrating their own uniqueness: Dürfen has puppets and Erfurt rotates among several figures. At CMg, we dream of the possibility of styling a new signal for our hometown of Pasadena. Roller skaters, perhaps?