ditto recently hosted a Campfire talk by Ruth Mackenzie, director of the Cultural Olympiad (the arts wing of the London 2012 events). So with that in mind it seems fitting to have a look back at the eclectic graphic design heritage of the games —and like any family tree there has been a mixture of success, failure and even controversy.
The 2012 logo, designed by Wolf Olins falls into the latter category; unveiled in 2007 it met with almost total derision and continues to irk people. Some said it invoked an image of Lisa Simpson performing a sex act, some saw a twisted swastika, and recently, Iran threatened to boycott the games on grounds of racism, claiming that the jagged shapes actually spelt the word “Zion” — and saw it as a coded reference to Israel.
Whether you believe the logo to be a success or a failure, graphically, the point remains that there is a perfectly well-designed Olympic logo in existence — the famous five rings, designed in 1914 by Baron Pierre de Coubertin; representing Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe and Oceania. Another nice detail is that every national flag in the world uses at least one of these colours. Why then do we see the need to create a new bolt-on logo every four years. When you also consider that the new logo apparently cost £400,000 you might start to feel somewhat irked too.
A more popular strand of the Olympic graphic lineage is the work by German designer Otl Aicher for the 1972 Munich Olympics. The restrained graphic work is a fine example of the “Swiss Style” — a clean and modernist approach which is still held highly in the opinions of graphic designers. His series of pictograms depicting the different sporting events were so successful that they were reused 4 years later at the Montreal games.
Success & failure — that’s the spirit of the games themselves and how do you judge failure anyway? The new Olympic logo is certainly one of the most memorable — can you immediately recall any logos from previous games? Brash it may be but it has certainly barged in to the public conscience, sparking an ongoing debate. Perhaps we prefer to look back at past endeavours through the rose-tinted lens than to stand nose-to-nose with modern radicalism — and if that is the case, maybe one day, years from now, the 2012 logo will begin to glow with a warm rosey aura and people will fondly say “they don’t make ‘em like that any more”…