Jane Davis Doggett, Who Helped People Find Their Way, Dies at 93
In the mid-1950s, when Jane Davis Doggett was earning a master’s degree at Yale’s Graduate School of Art and Architecture, she was surrounded by students and professors who were focused on the arenas, malls, medical centers, transit hubs and other huge projects that were coming to define America’s postwar era of prosperity and urban renewal.
Ms. Doggett had a different interest.
“Projects were new, complicated and big,” she recalled in a 2013 interview with the designer Tracy Turner posted on the website of the Society for Experiential Graphic Design. “It occurred to me to think about the person coming to these behemoths and what the human scale should be and how this person would find his way and make use of the place.”
The field she began working in didn’t really have a name at the time but is now called environmental graphic design. She became one of its founding figures, coming up with systems to help people navigate complex spaces, a specialty called “wayfinding.”
Airports were a calling: In Miami, Houston, Baltimore and several dozen other cities, Ms. Doggett used color coding, symbols, uniform signage and other touches to help travelers find their way around airports that would have otherwise been more intimidating.
“I didn’t envision my role as herding people,” Ms. Doggett told a Yale alumni publication in 2021. “Rather, I saw it as communicating to people the choices offered for their individual selections, with clearly defined routings of how to get there.”
Ms. Doggett, whose work won assorted awards over the years, died on April 10 in hospice care in Sun City Center, Fla. She was 93.
Her nephew, Bob Lochte, who with his wife, Kate Lochte, had been caring for her for the past three years, confirmed her death.
Ms. Doggett established her own firm, Architectural Graphics Associates, based in Connecticut, a few years after receiving her master’s degree in 1956, and for decades she was one of the few women working in environmental design.
In 1975, when The Hartford Courant asked her if she had ever encountered any obstacles because of her gender, she had a simple answer. “It’s sort of like asking Henry Kissinger, ‘Did you encounter obstacles working for détente?’” she said.
Years later, speaking to The Tampa Bay Times, she elaborated on what it was like trying to get her ideas accepted by a roomful of men.
“As long as I could prove it, I could persuade them,” she said. “It was not easy being let in. It was my going to Yale probably. But I was let in. And I realized we were doing something important.”
Jane Davis Doggett was born on Nov. 4, 1929, in Morristown, Tenn. Her father, Robert, was a paving contractor and wholesale asphalt distributor who also bred horses. Her mother, Annie Kate (Weesner) Doggett, was a homemaker and, as Jane put it, “a fantastic piano player, a natural.”
As a girl, she told The Tampa Bay Times, “all I wanted to do was ride my horse and draw.” That included doodling in hymnals when she was bored at church.
“Mother would have to buy the books,” she said.
She grew up in Nashville, graduating from Hillsboro High School, and then earned a Bachelor of Arts degree at Sophie Newcomb College in New Orleans in 1952. Then came a year of touring Europe before she enrolled at Yale.
In 1958 she had a rare opportunity, for an American, to see Moscow when she went there to cover the Fifth Congress of the International Union of Architects for Architectural Record magazine.
The next year, she got a call from a fellow Yale graduate, Roy Harrover, who invited her to join a team designing a new airport for Memphis. He asked her to handle the graphic elements.
The advent of the jet was changing air travel, requiring bigger terminals and increasing the number of people moving through them. One pivotal step in the Memphis project, she said in a 2019 PBS documentary, “Jane Davis Doggett: Wayfinder in the Jet Age,” was getting the airlines to agree to uniform signage, where in the past each had been accustomed to plastering its particular logo wherever possible, creating a confusing hodgepodge.
“That was a big departure for them,” she said in the documentary. “We said, ‘Put your logo and your branding behind the ticket counter, but the band above is sacred and belongs to the airport.’”
It was the first of many airport projects for her. In Houston in the early 1970s, she faced a complicated problem that she would encounter again in large metropolitan airports: multiple terminals. She gave each its own color on signs.
And she came up with another innovation: posting the color-coded signs on the roadways leading to the airport. A driver looking for, say, Terminal A would see a big, red “A” sign as they approached the airport — common sense now, but new then.
“This makes your traffic flow work,” she said in the documentary. “Before that, everybody was hitting brakes to read. All of this was done by this kid from Yale because I didn’t know any better. I thought, Well, this ought to work.”
Her favorite airport assignment, she often said, was in Tampa, Fla., where she designed graphic elements of an airport that opened in 1971. As with many of her projects, one of her key contributions was based on common sense — in particular, the realization that no one in an airport is going to know which direction is north, south, east or west, especially after navigating the tangle of roads leading to the terminals.
“The engineers wanted the directionals to be called north and south,” Ms. Doggett told The Tampa Bay Times. “But I said that at night, who knows what’s north and south? And even in the daytime, after driving around all those curves, who knows?”
Instead she used colors: Follow the red signs to get here, the blue to get there.
Ms. Doggett leaves no immediate survivors.
Ms. Doggett was also a graphic artist whose work was exhibited at Yale and in galleries in Florida and elsewhere. She explored using shapes and colors to interpret Roman proverbs and passages from the Bible. Using computers, she also created landscapes out of graphic elements.
“It’s wayfinding for myself,” she once said.
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