Is It Okay To Talk About The Olympics Branding Now?

So the Olympics are over, and what a resounding success they were. Pretty much everyone I know got behind it once the bureaucracy stopped and the feats of human endeavour started. And our Great Britain team performed admirably. All round a pretty good two weeks. I actually missed it when it ended.

But as people who are (overly) concerned with the world of design and communication, we have to return to the well-trodden subject of the Olympics branding. Why? Well just because. Well no, not just because. Because if we believe that the excellence of branding and communication are worthwhile subjects for our brain power, then by that token it must follow that the Olympics branding is subject worth lingering on for while longer.

When the Olympics branding was unveiled, it's fair to say that it was met with widespread criticism, both from the public and from the professional world of design and communication. Amongst designers and ad people I know, I can think of only one person who supported it (and to be fair, he vigorously supported it, and he is a chap who's opinions I respect). But then, as it became clear that we were stuck with it, everyone kind of went "Okay, let's take a step back and see how it feels after the event". And I suppose that was only fair.

So, after the event. For me, one big success of the branding was the colour scheme. I thought the primary pink and secondary purple worked very well in the event locations themselves, and around London. The colour scheme stood out and clearly labelled what it needed to. And brought a touch of colour to London, which chimed with the mood during the games.

But. But. The other two major elements of the branding – the 2012 logo and the typeface – just didn't redeem themselves during the event. Even with my best un-cynical trousers on, and trying to view it objectively, the logo and typeface always stood out as very, very poor amid the excellence that surrounded them.

They don't communicate anything other than discord and feel poorly crafted, the typeface conveys only disharmony - a collection of shapes and angles that don't go well together. It looked bad no matter what was written in it. The logo suffers from the same fate. It is an ugly shape, more like a bruise or scar on anything it adorned rather than something that enriched it's environment.

Okay, it's fair to say that one of the stated aims of the designers was to create something with “prescribed anarchy” and energy – but unfortunately, the designers' justifications read like just that, justification after the fact, not positive reasons why this identity is a good piece of design or communication. (In the interests of balance though, you can read a positively pitched article including interviews with the designers here.)

I don't think that the mark succeeds in meeting even those aims though, it is supposedly formed from shapes made by 'energy lines' but who decided where those energy lines should be? And who cares how something came into being if the end result lacks the intended energy? It hangs like a heavy, misshapen anchor. It doesn't buzz with the discordant energy that I believe the designers were aiming for.

I suppose my greatest criticism of it is that it doesn't do the absolutely fantastic British design and creative industry justice. It doesn't feel like a mark of excellence. It doesn't feel well produced, or well crafted. And I mean that in the knowledge that you can spend a long time crafting something to look deliberately un-crafted in a positive way. This doesn't feel like that. It makes me angry for Britain's talented designers and studios.

This Olympics has always been said to be about showing off the best of Britain and the legacy - Inspiring a Generation. On that measure alone, the branding fails miserably, because it falls very short of representing the best of what British designers and studios can produce, and I can't see it alone inspiring a generation of future designers and communicators into wanting to pick up a pen or mouse.

So why did we end up here? You can't pin the blame solely on the branding company, Wolff Olins. After all, they were chosen for the task by people who knew the work they had created previously, and this 2012 work had to be approved by someone. And no doubt they delivered what they promised. After all, they are a huge corporate branding conglomerate, and they have in turn delivered exactly what you would expect - they created something that looks like a huge corporate branding conglomerate trying to do an energetic and 'street level' identity.

They should never have been put near the project. So it falls to whoever gave them the job in the first place. And this is where I get very frustrated. It's decision that smacks of bureaucratic playing-it-safe - after all Wolff Olins had produced the Athens Olympic identity, so they had a track record of delivering successful solutions. It's a decision that lacks ambition or any knowledge of where the real design talent in Britain lies. If you want to work with the best best design talent in Britain, you have to work with fantastic individuals, and independent studios, not corporate branding agencies. I'm sure anyone in design could trip-off a list of five brilliant individuals or studios that could have produced something with far more energy and craft.

And that's why I'm frustrated about this - because in other areas, LOCOG made great decisions. For the opening ceremony they enlisted the creative brain of Danny Boyle - a brilliant film director. For the amazing Olympic cauldron design they commissioned the fantastic Thomas Heatherwick and his studio. They each produced works that stunned the nation, which performed their respective jobs fantastically, and that could make the nation's creative people proud.

The decision to appoint Wolff Olins to the branding of the London 2012 Olympics was the equivalent of LOCOG hiring a corporate events company to come up with the opening ceremony, and a commercial heating contractor to design the flame.

The biggest shame for me is the sense of missed opportunity for the great British designers out there. It's true that it has been a long time since there's been a truly great Olympics from a design point of view. I think most designers would look at Mexico '68 and Munich '72 as high points. Since then there has been precious little to celebrate from a visual standpoint. But here was an opportunity to do just that. And the thing is, the appointment of Heatherwick and Boyle proves that the organising committee had it in them to chose brilliance over safety. And they were rewarded for those decisions.

Will we look back on the branding and graphic design of the 2012 games as something that was additive to the occasion, that enriched the games and the city, and our appreciation of design? My guess is it will be more a sense of familiarity and nostalgic association with an event that we loved to feel a part of. And maybe for those of us in the business, a little sadness at a great opportunity missed for the British creative and design industry.


5 comments:

  1. The ‘evolution’ of Olympic logos that got passed around made me laugh. What evolution? the only one that stood out was London 2012, but not for the right reasons. It was like someone standing out in an identity parade because they got their cock out an worse Micky Mouse ears.

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  2. Totally agreed. I was excited to see the London 2012 logo, I wanted it to be a design I wished I had done, something to truly rival the Mexico '68 identity, but as it turned out it was a huge disappointment :(

    I for one, cannot wait until I never have to see that logo again!

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  3. Wild Man Of Borneo22 August 2012 at 16:37

    Spiffing post. The sporting heroics that we witnessed in 2012 shouldn't fool us into retrospectively regarding the branding and identity with any fondness or acclaim. Energy lines? Dogshit lines more like.

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  4. Great post. Likewise, I thought the colour scheme worked very well, although I would have never have thought it and wanted to hate it, but somehow it hung together and worked.

    Again, likewise I simply couldn't stand either the logo or typeface - from the outset and throughout. It seemed to cheapen and belittle the games in my mind. However, what I would like to know is whether it was ever researched? Since everyone else seems to research everything before attempting to make a decision, I would be surprised if LOCOG didn't. And if they didn't then why did it come sailing through?

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  5. Totally agree with this, the typeface was terrible. Looking back after the event with the sign's still up in stations' i think this more so. It looks like a cheap free font you used when you were in college.

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