Jane Davis Doggett, who helped people find their way, dies at 93

Written by user

In the mid-1950s, when Jane Davis Doggett earned a master’s degree from Yale’s Graduate School of Art and Architecture, she was surrounded by students and professors focused on the arenas, shopping malls, medical centers, transit hubs, and other major projects that would define America’s post-war era. of prosperity and urban renewal.

Mrs. Doggett had another interest.

“Projects were new, complicated, and big,” she recalled in a 2013 interview with designer Tracy Turner on the Society for Experiential Graphic Design’s website. “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 their way around and make use of the place.”

The field in which she started working didn’t really have a name at the time, but is now called environmental graphic design. She became one of the founders, devising systems to help people navigate complex spaces, a specialty called “wayfinding.”

Airports were a calling: In Miami, Houston, Baltimore and a few dozen other cities, Ms. Doggett used color-coding, symbols, uniform signage and other accents to help travelers navigate airports that would otherwise have been intimidating.

“I didn’t envision my role as herding people,” Ms. Doggett told a publication of Yale alumni in 2021. over there.”

Ms. Doggett, whose work has won several awards over the years, died April 10 at a hospice in Sun City Center, Fla. She was 93.

Her cousin, Bob Lochte, who had cared for her along with his wife Kate Lochte for the past three years, confirmed her death.

Ms. Doggett founded her own firm, Architectural Graphics Associates, in Connecticut a few years after receiving her master’s degree in 1956, and for several decades she was one of the few women to work in environmental design.

When The Hartford Courant asked her in 1975 if she had ever encountered obstacles because of her gender, she had a simple answer. “It’s like asking Henry Kissinger, ‘Have you encountered any 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 convince them,” she said. “It wasn’t easy to get in. It was likely that I went to Yale. But I was let in. And I realized we were doing something important.”

Jane Davis Doggett was born on November 4, 1929 in Morristown, Tennessee. Her father, Robert, was a paving contractor and asphalt wholesaler who also raised horses. Her mother, Annie Kate (Weesner) Doggett, was a housewife and, as Jane put it, “a fantastic pianist, a natural.”

As a girl, she told The Tampa Bay Times, “All I wanted to do was ride horses and draw.” That included scribbling hymnals when she was bored in church.

“Mother should buy the books,” she said.

She grew up in Nashville, graduated from Hillsboro High School and then received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Sophie Newcomb College in New Orleans in 1952. She then spent a year touring Europe before enrolling 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 following year, she received a call from a fellow Yale graduate, Roy Harrover, who invited her to be part of a team designing a new airport for Memphis. He asked her to take care of the graphic elements.

The arrival of the jet changed air traffic, requiring larger terminals and increasing the number of people traveling through them. A critical 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 they have in the past used to use their specific logo whenever possible, creating a confusing mix.

“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 it 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 complex problem she would encounter again at major metropolitan airports: multiple terminals. She gave each one its own color on plates.

And she came up with another innovation: placing the color-coded signs on the roads leading to the airport. For example, a driver looking for Terminal A saw a big, red “A” sign as he approached the airport – common sense now, but new then.

“This makes your traffic flow work,” she said in the documentary. “Before that, everyone hit the brakes to read. All this was done by a boy from Yale because I didn’t know any better. I thought, well, this should work.”

Her favorite airport job, she often said, was in Tampa, Florida, where she designed graphics for an airport that opened in 1971. As with many of her projects, one of her most important contributions was based on common sense – in particular, the realization that no one in an airport will know which direction is north, south, east or west, especially after navigating the maze of roads leading to the terminals.

“The engineers wanted the directions to be called north and south,” Ms. Doggett told The Tampa Bay Times. “But I said that at night, who knows what is north and south? And even during the day, after driving all those corners, who knows?”

She used colors instead: follow the red signs to get here, the blue ones to get there.

Mrs. Doggett leaves no immediate survivors.

Mrs. Doggett was also a graphic artist whose work was exhibited at Yale and in galleries in Florida and elsewhere. She explored the use of shapes and colors to interpret Roman proverbs and passages from the Bible. She also created landscapes of graphic elements with the help of computers.

“It’s signage for myself,” she once said.

About the author