At the center of controversy: Past, Present, and Future of the 2012 London Olympics

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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.

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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.

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Figure 2: The logo used during the bidding process

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).

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Figure 3: Logos of the other bidding cities

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).

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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 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.

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Figure 5: Program graphics for the 1972 Munich Olympics (Design: Otl Aicher)

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.

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Figure 6: Poster for the Mexico 1968 Olympics (Design: Lance Wyman)

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.

Works Cited

Purvis, Alston W., and Philip B. Meggs. Meggs’ History of Graphic Design. New York: Wiley, 2005.

Roberts, Adam. “Uh-Oh Logo.” http://www.thevalve.org/go/valve/article/no_go_logo/uh-oh%20logo

“London unveils logo of 2012 Games.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/other_sports/olympics_2012/6718243.stm

“The emblem of London 1948.” http://en.beijing2008.cn/spirit/symbols/emblem/n214050869.shtml

“72+.” http://www.creativereview.co.uk/crb

“Otl Aicher Munich 1972 Olympics Design Exhibition.” http://grainedit.com/2008/08/27/otl-aicher-munich-1972-olympics-design-exhibition/

“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

“2012 Logo: Lance Wyman says “give it a chance”.” http://www.creativereview.co.uk/crblog/2012-logo-lance-wyman-says-give-it-a-chance

“Computer Arts – Matt Pyke.” http://www.computerarts.co.uk/in_depth/interviews/matt_pyke

“London, How do I Hate Thee? Let me Count the Ways, 1, 2… 2012.” http://www.underconsideration.com/speakup/archives/003489.html

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Form Follows Motion

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There have been only a few moments in my career as a designer when I have stumbled upon great TV identities. Granted, I don’t own a TV set nor have I watched television in almost 5 years. However, I still keep myself up-to-date with the wonderful world of TV identities thanks to the internet and idents.tv

The channel that stands out the most for me hails from the UK and it’s not BBC. If you’re ever assigned to design an identity for a TV network, this channel should be your go-to reference point.

Channel 4, one of Britain’s biggest television channels, has always raised the bar when it comes to beautiful and iconic broadcast graphic design. I was unaware of Channel 4’s existence until I took a motion graphics class during college. I stumbled upon one of their amazing TV bumpers and, ever since then, my interest in this channel’s identity began to grow exponentially over the years.

First things first, their logo has the inadvertent quality of being able to translate itself in so many different levels that the possibilities on how to use it are endless. Much like the work from Wolff Olins for the New Museum, Bruce Mau for OCAD, and Sagmeister for Casa da Musica, Channel 4 speaks a language it can call its own. Every iteration of the logo seems to have its own personality and that’s how this identity leaves a strong mark behind.

The brand identity is beautifully carried across all of its sister channels. The obvious relationship they all have with each other is the number 4, which ties them all together through a literal message. However, it’s not just the number that connects them all, but the way the brand itself is treated in different contexts. In other words, all brands that live under the Channel 4 umbrella have their own distinct voice; they all, however, retain the same bold and astute graphic language that is spoken by the main brand. Shown below are the 5 sister channels that embrace this visual language (including More 4′s new and old logo)

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It is needless to say that one of the main reasons why Channel 4 has succeeded in its visual identity is partly due to their partnership with great design studios such as Spin and Rudd Studio, amongst others. They also run their own in-house creative agency, 4Creative, which is responsible for most of their branding efforts.

Let me start out by focusing on Channel 4′s main brand.

What makes Channel 4′s brand so great is the flexibility it imposes in every iteration. One of their most basic executions uses a familiar mask-driven approach to broaden the brand’s interaction in any given context. We all have seen similar cases where “living identities” use masks for the added benefit to adapt to any situation (ie: City of Melbourne rebrand). However, this is just a small piece of Channel 4′s larger on-screen branding treatments.

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As it is to be expected from any great branding project, all details are flawlessly covered, including its typography. Channel 4′s personality is perfectly captured in the letterforms; not too bland but not too flashy. It looks great on screen and print. And last but not least, this bespoke typeface was designed by one of most respected type foundries in the UK, FontSmith. Pictured below are all of the different type weights.

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Perspective-based Channel Idents and Branding

As mentioned earlier, much of the consistent look and feel of Channel 4′s brand extensions is achieved through contextual visual cues such as textures and scenes living behind masks. However, there is a more interesting approach that the channel has adopted through its “bumpers” by using perspective. The real beauty of these idents is that they carry the brand across without waving the logo before one’s eyes. The execution is subtle but the outcome is memorable and has an added element of surprise.

Each bumper is masterfully crafted. I’m sure they must have cost a small fortune to produce but I believe they were worth every penny.

Note at 0:37 how all of the neon signs align to create Channel 4′s logo

…and here at 0:27

This one’s a bit trickier to see, but you can see the Channel 4 logo on the runway, starting at 0:25

Here you can see it at 0:16

…and last but not least, this one at 0:29

You’d think the Channel 4 logo was created within the last 10 years or so… but I was surprised to find out that it had been around since 1982:

1637674142_0a2c07da99_b (1)A real-world example of the perspective-based branding approach

Sister Channels

One of Channel 4’s strongest points when it comes to a holistic branding approach is its sheer sense of consistency without constraints. The sub-brands under Channel 4’s umbrella are all meticulously designed to be on par with the main brand’s design sensibilities. This proves to be a huge positive note on Channel 4’s overall branding efforts as it allows them to be flexible with their sub-brands tone and style while retaining the main brand’s spirit.

More 4 (new)

More 4 has recently uncovered a rebrand that uses a flip-book metaphor as its flagship theme across all bumpers. In my humble opinion, they did not need a rebrand as the previous identity created by Spin was already solid. However, I can’t complain as ManVSMachine has done a fine job re-imagining the More 4 brand for a new generation.

More 4 Rebrand from Adam Heslop on Vimeo

More 4 (old)

The following screens are from More 4’s previous branding effort by Spin. I personally prefer this identity instead as it reflects a simpler and cleaner aesthetic. The only downside that I can think of is the restricted green color palette. However, the way motion graphics were designed in these commercial-break segments were elegant and modern without leaning too much on the bland side.

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MotionScreensCommercial break on-air segment

Film 4

A genius execution of the “Film 4″ sub-brand, connecting the logo in an appropriate context (movie set). Once again, a similar perspective-based optical illusion is used for this instance, tying this bumper to Channel 4′s branded motion framing

Film4

4seven

4seven’s idents are similar in nature to the ones previously shown but with a different “edge”

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