Field hockey court adorned by the controversial London 2012 branding.
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 recovered an old essay I had written for one of my history classes which talks about my stance concerning the brand identity for the London 2012 Olympics. When Wolff Olins unveiled the logo back in 2006, the general public was up in arms about the aesthetic quality of the mark that was to represent the most populous city in the United Kingdom.
People pointed out the logo’s childish appearance and claimed that it lacked a cultural connection to the city. 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? Is engraining any sort of national identity to events involving international competition a good idea? Hopefully all of these questions will be answered by the time you’ve finished the article.
If there are any fallacies in this piece, please let me know.
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 as it eschews any sense of place or tradition by using abstract, haphazardly-arranged rectilinear shapes that spell out the year 2012. Some have even claimed it to be one of the worst logos ever designed for an Olympic event. Whether the organizers expected it or not, this widespread negative publicity has placed the event under the spotlight of the design world. In spite of such backlash, the London Olympic Organizing Committee is willing to gamble its chances with a bold and controversial design approach backed by some up-and-coming designers who are not afraid to think in new directions. As such, 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.
Figure 1: 2012 Olympics logo designed by Wolff Olins
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. A particular characteristic that separates 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 driving force behind the logo 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.
Aesthetically speaking, the identity does seem to take a rather unorthodox approach. The logo consists of 4 jagged shapes, each positioned in a quadrant with the word ‘London’ placed inside the first shape at the top-left and the Olympic rings inside the shape next to it. These distinct rectilinear shapes attempt to represent the year ‘2012’. The typography living inside the logo is a custom typeface developed by Wolff Olins and its application can be seen 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.
The typeface used is a medium weight, all-caps sans serif that is 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. It can be said that this conservative approach was taken to appease the general public with a safe choice. However, while this approach might appeal to most, it is not as memorable when compared to the rest of the bidding cities: Madrid, Moscow, New York, and Paris (Figure 3).
With regard to tradition, 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).
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 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 could 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. But if we look further down the road, this would not be the first time national identity is deprioritized. The design of the 1972 Olympics in Munich (Figure 5) is one of the best case studies on how Olympic design can detach itself from national motifs and create a more “post-national” design approach for international events.
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 as well as inspiring an exhibition focused on this particular Olympic event’s graphic design in London and San Diego.
The great discontent over the London 2012 Olympics logo could be partly attributed to the Internet and internet-based media as millions of people around the world are now able to share their thoughts and experiences on the identity. The blogosphere, where thousands of blogs are syndicated to each other, have tarnished and destroyed the branding of the 2012 Olympics by storm. It seems 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.
Such criticism 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 symbolized the defeated tone of surrender from the identity’s harshest critics:
…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 (Figure 6), 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.
Although national identity has been stripped away from the overall branding of the 2012 Olympics, this move could be a positive sign for the Olympic movement, much like the successful graphic design system from the 1972 Olympics which swayed away from the traditional approach of branding the event with nationalist elements. A radical take on how the Olympics is branded could give headroom for the internationalism that the Olympic Games have strived to communicate over its long history. And as the world becomes more globalized and connected, maybe this is just the beginning of a new design paradigm for the Olympics; designers will no longer have to advocate national identity and could eventually move towards a broader, “post-national” design methodology.
Purvis, Alston W., and Philip B. Meggs. Meggs’ History of Graphic Design. New York: Wiley, 2005.
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“How Lisa Simpson got ahead at the Olympics.” http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/artblog/2007/jun/05/howlisasimpsontooktheolym
“Change The London 2012 Logo.” http://www.gopetition.co.uk/petitions/change-the-london-2012-logo.html
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