Figure 1: 2012 Olympics logo designed by Wolff Olins
I often keep myself entertained at random points in time by digging through old files and rescuing certain documents that I think are worth sharing.
On this particular occasion, I’ve found an old essay I had written for one of my history classes that talks about my stance in regard to the branding of the London 2012 Olympics. I clearly remember the moment when Wolff Olins unveiled the logo. The reaction was bad. Really bad. People often referred to this logo as childish, ugly, and that it did not reflect any national identity. Due to the fact that this reaction took place during the initial phase of the design process, I’m quite interested to see how people think about it in its current state. Is it better? Is it worse? I also ponder on the stance of many people who think that national identity should be the norm when designing events involving international competition.
If there are any fallacies in this document, please let me know.
The following document was not proofread. Please excuse any typos.
Written on October 12, 2008
London’s upcoming Olympics in 2012 has been receiving much attention from the worldwide press ever since its brand identity was announced to the public. Many have ostracized the logo, which embodies an abstract rectilinear arrangement of shapes resembling the year 2012. Some have claimed it to be one of the worst logos ever designed for an Olympic event. However, due to this widespread negative publicity, the event itself has become the spotlight in the design world. Being backed by a team of up-and-coming designers, the London Olympic Organizing Committee is willing to gamble their chances with the bold and controversial design approach given to them for this grand event. Hence, this logo symbolizes the beginning of a new era in Olympic branding and could serve as an example for change in future Olympic events to come.
On June 4th, 2006, the London 2012 Olympics logo was unveiled to the public by the London 2012 Olympic Organizing Committee (Figure 1). The design firm chosen to design the logo for the 2012 Olympics was Wolff Olins and it is said that the sum paid by the committee was approximately £400,000. One of the key elements that separate the London 2012 Olympics from most Olympic events is the fact that national identity has been obliterated as there seems to be no sign of any British reference incorporated in its design. The concept behind the logotype was to embrace a unique and youthful approach toward the upcoming games in order to attract a younger audience. The following quote comes from a statement issued in a case study of the London Olympics by Wolff Olins:
“London’s bid for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games was like no other. It promised to inspire the youth of the world. To engage, involve and enthuse – to change lives. It promised to put the Olympic and Paralympic Games at the heart of contemporary life.”
The logo consists of 4 jagged shapes, each positioned in a quadrant with the word ‘London’ marked on the first shape at the top-left and the Olympic rings marked on the shape next to it. These distinct rectilinear shapes attempt to represent the year ‘2012’. The typography for the logo is a custom typeface developed by Wolff Olins and it would be embraced throughout the entire identity. The color palette for the branding of the logotype is varied; the main color scheme consists of purple and yellow, while the secondary color schemes come in shades of blue, orange, and green. Although London’s Olympic Organizing Committee’s chairman, Seb Coe, may think fondly of this ‘inspiring’ design, the vast majority of the public seemed to disagree with him.
In contrast to the final outcome of the logo designed by Wolff Olins, the 2012 Olympics bid logo designed during the bidding process (Figure 2) is strikingly different in its design.
Figure 2: The logo used during the bidding process
The typeface used is a medium weight, all-caps sans serif that is somewhat reminiscent of the typeface used in London’s Underground sign system, Johnston. The Olympic bands sway across and between the typography while the Olympic rings sit right on top of it. This design approach seems conservative in comparison to the final outcome. While this approach might appeal to some, it is not as memorable when compared to the rest of the bidding cities: Madrid, Moscow, New York, and Paris (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Logos of the other bidding cities
The 2012 Olympics would not be the first time London has hosted an Olympic event as they have also previously hosted the 1948 Olympics. These Olympics were the first time the world met in international competition since the end of World War II. The logo for the 1948 Summer Games consisted of a single colored outlined image of the “Big Ben” Clock Tower in London with the Olympic rings on the foreground and the appropriate type displaying “XIVth Olympiad” and “London 1948” in capitals (Figure 4).
Figure 4: Logo for the 1948 Summer Games held in London
The hands of the clock are pointing to 4 o’clock, symbolizing “the time at which the opening of the Games was planned.” The typeface used on this occasion was an open face, all-caps variation of the Caslon typeface. The main unnoticed difference between this logo and that from the 2012 Olympics is mainly in the sense of national identity. While the 1948 Olympics logo has one of England’s most prominent cultural icons, the “Big Ben”, the new logo by Wolff Olins seems to ignore any sense of nationalism. This move can be considered as a bold move that would push towards a more neutral and universal design aesthetic and could be well suited for future Olympic events. If we look further down the road, the design of the 1972 Olympics in Munich is a clear example of how Olympic design can detach itself from national motifs and create a more democratic design approach for the Olympics.
The 1972 Olympics in Munich is a prime example of successful Olympic graphic design. It implemented a more formal systematic design program focused on function and readability, two main traits which characterized the ongoing design movement at the time also known as the International Typographic Style. For the first time in Olympic history, grid systems were heavily enforced throughout the entire identity. Due to the fact that this was the first time Germany hosted the Olympics since the end of World War II, it was imperative that references of nationalism and patriotism were excluded from any design element.
The color palette that was chosen “consisted of two blues, two greens, yellow, orange, and three neutral tones (black, white and a middle-valued gray). Excluding one segment of the spectrum in this way created harmony and projected a festive air.” Like the Tokyo Olympics, the Munich Olympics included a pictographic system which crossed language barriers and pushed the notion of internationalism even further. The neutrality that the Munich Olympic Games embraced has placed them at the highest honor in Olympic design, being featured in various design publications and reaching the point of inspiring an exhibition focused on this particular Olympic event’s graphic design in London, curated by Viscoe/Bibliotheque, and is now on tour in San Jose, California.
The Internet and internet-based media have allowed millions of people around the world to share their thoughts and experiences about the London 2012 logo. A clear example of this is the blogosphere, where thousands of blogs syndicated to each other have tarnished and destroyed the branding of the 2012 Olympics by storm. It seemed that the general consensus of the logo in these blogs was a failed attempt to represent current youth culture by a team of ‘aged’ designers who do not understand young people and their interests. Some bloggers have stated that the logo is similar to a “broken swastika”, while others have gone as far as to say that it resembles an image of “Lisa Simpson giving a blowjob”. The logo has not only been prone to harsh criticism from the blogosphere but also within internet forums, where people have shared their personal distress over the notorious logo design with very little or no moderation at all.
The discontent over the logo led to design interventions from various groups on the internet. A website titled “London 2012: Can you do better?” is a website created especially for submitting new designs that embrace the true spirit that should be carried through according to voters on the site. Another site focused on the removal of the current London 2012 Olympics logo is an online petition site hosted by GoPetition.com. Over 48,000 signatures have been signed, hoping that their voices will be heard by the Olympic Organizing Committee. A small abstract of the petition is seen with utter dissatisfaction:
“A new logo has been unveiled for the London 2012 Olympics. I feel it is an embarrassment and portrays our country in the worst possible way.”
Ironically, a statement created after the petition had already reached over 48,000 signatures states that “as it becomes clear that the logo is here to stay – there is little point in damaging the reputation of our Olympic Games, that was never the intention.” Hence, it could be said that the public is now starting to become aware of the event’s identity and have learned to cope with it. Moreover, not all is bad for the London Olympic Organizing Committee as there are some very important advocates who are willing to bet that this branding approach could take off positively in the following years.
Lance Wyman, member of the design committee in charge of one of the most successful Olympic designs, the Mexico 1968 Olympics, has stated in Creative Review, an influential design publication from the United Kingdom, about his views concerning the controversial London 2012 logo:
“The London 2012 logo has been presented with promising descriptive text but besides the date, I don’t think the logo itself attempts to reference anything of significance,” he says. “It has certainly aroused a lot of critical references, from grade school paper cuts to porno … My gut feeling though is to give the logo a chance, he continues. “It has a recognizable, brash character and might offer an open book of application possibilities that will keep it fresh into 2012.”
Universal Everything, a distinct motion graphics design studio famous for its designs for clients such as Adidas, MTV, Apple, and Wieden + Kennedy, is also a strong advocate for the London 2012 logo design as well as being one of the key participants along with Wolff Olins. Being backed by a respected portfolio of stunning animation work, this motion design studio could also be part of the reason why some have already begun to appreciate the logo.
On a similar note, SpeakUp, a design community and blog devoted to graphic design has also shown great interest in the design of the upcoming 2012 Olympics. The current branding applications of the event is thoroughly analyzed and discussed, ranging from the quality of the TV advertisements to the way the logo could be incorporated successfully onto print media. The author of this blog post continues his analysis with a very interesting remark:
“This is where I think the London 2012 identity succeeds. Whether you like it or hate it, the work is extremely unique and memorable. More so than any of the last Olympic Games and I would even go as far as comparing it with the 1968 Mexico Olympic program in terms of a radical approach. What Wolf-Olins has been able to create is a visual language that can be implemented across all media without succumbing to boring repetition and, again, whether you like it or not, this is an extremely complicated thing to achieve. Much more to do it in an exciting way. Yes, slowly, I am throwing praise of my own to this identity. I really don’t “like” the basic logo, I feel it’s clunky and ugly (maybe sexy-ugly) and I still have no idea why that loose hyphen is there, smack in the center, but the way it is used and supported by its own unique language is highly rewarding for me.”
Indeed, judging by the comments posted on the blog entry, this blog has sprawled new London 2012 branding advocates, as they seem to be motivated and excited by the visuals that were presented to them in this particular news story.
Although national identity has been stripped away from the overall branding of the 2012 Olympics, it could be a positive sign for the Olympic movement, much like the successful Olympics held at Munich in 1972, which swayed away from the traditional approach of branding the event with nationalist elements. This could give headroom for the internationalism that the Olympic Games have strived to communicate over its long history and could become the beginning of a new design paradigm for the Olympics, where designers will no longer have to advocate national identity and move towards a broader postnational design methodology.
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