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It’s now been just over 5 years since the logo for the London 2012 Olympics Games was revealed and so we finally get to see it in action, much like the athletes. Never before has the design of a logo grabbed so many headlines, with not just designer geeks venting their disgust but the general public chiming in with their own opinion on the oddly shaped & coloured icon. In general, the logo received very negative feedback with one of the most common & scathing critiques being that it looks like something unsavoury. That surely wasn’t music to the ears of Wolf Ollins, the agency behind the controversial design.

This was the original image presented, with its jarring and jagged edges in extreme abstract form coupled with a neon & futuristic colour palette:

Back in 2007 it was claimed that the logo would evolve in the run up to the games, suggesting that with the event being a few years down the line, that it was a bold prediction of how logos could look in the future. Or quite simply, trying to be ‘ahead of the times’. Since the games began I have noticed a slightly cleaner version being used more prominently:

At the official unveiling of the logo, Sebastian Coe, the Chairman of the London Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, gave some reasoning for the design:

We don’t do bland. This is not a bland city. We weren’t going to come to you with a dull or dry corporate logo that will appear on a polo shirt and we’re all gardening in it in a years time. This is something that has got to live for the next five years.

You can watch a snippet of the unveiling ceremony below if you’re interested:

 

At the time of its release, I will be honest and admit that I defended the logo to some extent, but deep down I knew it wasn’t great to look at. I think every designer in the world believed they could create something better. I clung on to a belief that maybe they did have the foresight into what could be perceived as cool & relevant in the future and I also admired the way that they seemed to have taken a huge risk in creating something that is different. Being a brand identity designer myself, I know all to well that creating something that looks like everything else is the easy option and actually goes against the principle of creating an identity in the first place. You cannot argue that the London 2012 Olympics logo isn’t unique.

If you take a look at how the logo compares to the previous identities of the last 12 Summer Olympic Games you’ll agree that it stands out and doesn’t conform to the safer & softer abstract trend:

The same can be said for design of the official London 2012 Olympics & Paralympics mascot characters which were unveiled two years ago. Quirkly named Wenlock & Mandeville, they certainly do not follow the traditional cute and loveable template that’s for sure. Again, their design received ridicule from the public & people began to worry that the whole branding exercise was heading for disaster.


A comparison of the mascots for the Summer Olympic Games since 1992:

At this stage though, I noticed that at least there was some form of consistency. The accompanying logotypes for the mascots used the same typeface as in the master Olympic logo, set in the custom designed 2012 Headline. The style of the typeface also received some negative reviews claiming that it looked odd and ‘too greek’ but at least it conformed to the same style as the logo.

Understanding the public reaction

So why was there such a negative reaction? Obviously, the £400,000 that it cost to develop the logo wouldn’t have been easy for the general public to comprehend. When you consider the long in-depth process involved and the enormity of the task to create something that is usable and can be applied to many different mediums, I am not surprised by the price at all. It’s not as if one person was paid all of that money just to draw a few jagged lines and colour them in (most people seeking a logo design actually think this is all logo design involves).

I personally believe the main problem was that the average person on the street couldn’t connect with the image emotionally. Only a few days after the Olympics had opened, my Grandfather asked me what the logo was meant to be. When I explained that it was an abstract representation of ‘2012’ he was very surprised, but it at last made some kind of sense to him. Since the Olympic bid was won the main focus has always been on London and how great it would be for the capital of England to host the games for a record third time. However, there is little reference to London within the logo, and I think that is the main reason why people can’t connect to it. If you look at the Beijing 2008 logo, it was drawn in a traditional Chinese style and this was carried through for the rest of the iconography. The Athens 2004 logo had a subtle reference to Olive wreaths, the traditional prize at the ancient games and the Sydney 2000 logo had subtle references to Australian culture.

But for London 2012, the logo doesn’t encapsulate anything that can instantly be recognised as anything that relates to London, England or Great Britain. I am not saying that it should have included abstract drawings of famous British landmarks or anything that obvious but I think that is what the British public were expecting. You could say that the general public we’re like one giant typical design client, and as soon as they were presented with something that was out of their comfort zone it’s not surprising that the design received such a backlash as it did.

The logo in application

5 years is a long time to wait, and like Coe said, we had to live with the logo and anticipate how it would feature in the broader identity system. Since the games have started, I have to say I am very impressed at the diverse usage of the logo and also how the supporting branding elements really add to the overall experience and interaction.

The biggest factor to note is that everything pulls together really well in a consistent style. The logo looks natural in its surroundings, often presented on backgrounds that follow its diagonal contours.

The illustration style for iconography and ticket design conform to the energetic and vibrancy of the linework.

Even the official mascots look great in situ. If this was in Japan, I’m sure they would be heralded ad bizarre but modern.

I just had to share one of the clever stamp designs below for its ingenuity.

Style in application on a range of other branding deliverables:

So is the logo a success?

Having seen everything as a complete brand identity, I have to admit it’s great. I love how it typifies the energetic and youthfulness of the event. I’m also willing to put good money that the majority of people who have tickets for Olympics and purchase official merchandise featuring the logo were originally critiques of its design. I do however think that it was too radical for a nation to get fully behind, support and be proud of. Though us Brits do tend to be over critical of our own at times.

The problem with trying to predict the future of design is that our assumptions are often way off the mark. For example, when you see movies depicting the world in 2050, the writer assumes that all previous buildings will have vanished, be replaced with super-simplistic gadget-ridden dwellings and that we will all travel using spaceships or hover boards. In reality, progress is always much slower than that, so you have to applaud Wolf Ollins in creating a logo that does look futuristic compared to it’s predecessors, but it could have been much worse.

Overall, it’s been great that everyone has started talking about design and it has definitely helped to gain an interest in the event itself. Who knows, maybe, it was a controversial design on purpose for that exact reason. Is it a logo to cherish? Maybe. Is it memorable? Definitely. It’s up to you to decide whether it stays in the mind for the right or wrong reasons.

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  1. 01/08/12
    4:50 am
    Rebecca | MidcenturyModernRemodel
    My favorite part of this post is the logo comparisons. That says it all.
  2. 01/08/12
    7:52 am
    I agree Gareth. I think it's successful despite the way it was initially received. I can't stop looking at and admiring the various branded backdrops and decorations at the venues (on tv, didn't get any tickets...!) and remarking how they form such a cohesive, dynamic and bright brand. I wrote about it too, here, if you're interested! http://www.owenjonesdesign.com/blog/2012-not-so-bad
  3. 01/08/12
    10:17 am
    Thanks for the insight, Rebecca.
  4. 01/08/12
    7:55 pm
    nice breakdown. In production at The Games now, the colours and graphical treatments are working. The logo seems lost amongst all them as just another shape...because it doesnt' look like 2-0-1-2 still, even after seeing it all these years leading up. It's just some abstract nothing. And not to mention, the 'unsavoury' thing was a huge mental strike -- it's one of those things that 'cannot be unseen', terrible as that may be. The other thought I've had is when the concepts were originally unveiled and we left Bejing 2008 looking forward, everything seemed so far away and in 'the future'. Sure the world didn't leap into the future like one might have thought, economic nightmares etc etc..... but the design aspect doesn't make me feel 'modern' today....it doesnt' even feel 'now' enough to be 2012, and that's left me a bit disappointed.
  5. 02/08/12
    6:01 pm
    I cannot really judge as to whether the branding has succeeded or failed, since it is not being applied for broadcast here in the United States. From what I do see of it, though, it's more interesting than previous Olympic branding exercises. The main thing about it that does disturb me is the custom typeface. The "O" is round and that throws off the sharpness and quirkiness of the set.
  6. 12/08/12
    2:04 am
    Truly disappointed with this logo - yes kudos for consistent brand experience and execution (viewed from across the Atlantic via TV, print, and web coverage) and yes the logo isn't that much worse than the others that preceded it. But as a warm, energetic, unifying, active iconic visual representation, I say it fails. In fact, I said yuck at LHR a year ago and I want to gag and throw up given the forced consumption and oversaturation I'm being subjected to now. Consistent execution does not rescue the brand. I expected more than synthesized randomness to suit some design elitist fabricated formulaic logic... design lives and breathes in the way it is received - tasted, chewed, processed, internalized in the individual brain... times a thousand people. If you have to explain it, it's a fail. That it is still being critiqued in the mainstream (just Google it) on the final day of the games, underscores my point! Britain gave the world, several things of design beauty. The consistency of TfL signage is a thing of timeless beauty (btw, check out the NYT for their stylized London 2012 logo using it)... energetic/moving, fresh, yet reflecting order, predictability, trust/comfort, etc. And yes there;s plenty of emotional reaction too (like the detestable curl at the bottom of the lower case L; or the distressing diamond shaped dot of the i and the j). Y'all also gave us the use of gray and non-blah-Helvetica fonts on websites, the use of the thin line and the dotted lines as a design element, the use of whitespace, and more. I expected so much more. Sorry to be curmudgeonly - great games, but the design is an F. PS: And, yeah, what's with that discordant o???
  7. 01/09/12
    1:00 am
    Gareth, very impressed with your critique. I stumbled on an 'image' search of the logo to stick on a website(!) I completely agree with you... Always been a fan of the 'hot pink' they used ;) Keep posting articles like this, I've subscribed. Max
  8. 14/09/12
    9:28 am
    Its just my opinion buy do you like tags and graffiti? We could have had an alternative classic design which would be cool and endearing for years to come. Nope, that would be to predictable and safe? The logo was outdated from the moment it was introduced and panders to the youth in such a way as to completely miss the mark and reach uncool status quicker than any logo since maybe the BA fiasco. Lets be clear, the games were great, everything else, except those dreadful "scro & tum" mascots which kids apparently love, went very very well. But the logo is an attempt at being trendy when in fact it might have been cool 10 years prior. What I really do not like is that instead of setting a really high standard for Cool Britain, it just stands out as ugly graffiti which it is based upon. Very very disappointed. But the seating and tickets, venue and stadia (except the exterior) were wonderful.
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