Sunday, 25 January 2015
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London 2012 design icons – the Olympic logo

The London 2012 Olympics identity has had an interesting existence so far. Unveiled in 2007 to a less-than-enthusiastic reception (with some commentators memorably suggesting that it resembled Lisa Simpson engaged in a sex act), the identity has, for the last five years, been rolling out on touchpoints across the country – on more than 250 000 individual designs.


Much of the original criticism of the logo came down to two issues – the first was that Wolff Olins, which designed the mark, was unable to fully discuss its design rationale, due to media restrictions.

The second was that the real purpose of the identity wasn’t as a standalone logo, but as a brand that  had to come to life in the run-up to, and during, the Games. It was very difficult to imagine, in 2007, how this might work.

Since Wolff Olins developed the identity, it has been handed over to Futurebrand and Locog, who have been beavering away at the brand applications – from tickets to shops to Olympic venues. The aim, according to Locog, is to create a brand environment that ‘extends across every aspect of the Games, from spectator arrival into Heathrow all the way through to the colours and designs of the seats in the venues.’

Olympics branding on Oxford Street

Olympics branding on Oxford Street

So now we’ve had five years to digest the Olympics identity, what do people think of it now?

Nick Couch, managing director at Figtree, describes the identity as ‘Bright, energetic and slightly dysfunctional… It reflects London.’

His main gripe has been with the brand application since it launched, ‘It’s an identity that promises diversity and yet it’s been used like a stamp since it launched.’ Couch points to Matt Pyke of Universal Everything’s Adidas Olympics animation as an ‘integrated’ exception to this.

Paul Bailey, partner at 1977 Design, was another who was receptive to the branding’s potential when it launched, ‘I would be lying if I said that I was a huge fan of the logo in itself, but I did think that the approach had a certain energy and potential, and so was willing to give it time to develop.

‘The fact that it was far from an obvious response appealed to me; it could so easily have used clichéd national references.’

Bailey says that having seen the different brand applications, he’s still a fan of the brand’s ‘personality and energy’.

Ticket designs

Ticket designs

‘For all it’s faults – I’m not saying it is perfect – the brand environment for London 2012 has an energy and a distinct look. The fact that it doesn’t use stereotypical “British” references and also avoided design trends (remember this was launched in 2007) has been a big benefit to how well it works as a distinctive brand.’

Jack Renwick, formerly creative director at The Partners and now founder of Jack Renwick Studio, says, ‘When the identity first launched I wasn’t a massive fan and found it quite ugly and dated but I appreciated its bravery. London is different, we’re edgy and cool, we have a history of risk-taking and irreverence, maybe this was going to be the “London” way.

‘I don’t like to put the boot into anyone else’s work but I’m still waiting for the exciting, radical communications to transpire. Any visual identity should inform and inspire, none more so than a worldwide event like the Olympics. Instead I just see disparate pieces of communications, and most importantly, the emotional rallying cry behind the Games is almost entirely lacking.’

Olympics branding on Oxford Street

Olympics branding on Oxford Street

Renwick places some of the blame on the ‘difficult-to-read’ font, which she says, ‘makes it difficult to absorb that communications are anything to do with the Games.’

She points to the much-maligned artists’ posters as a ‘classic example of trying to show off creativity at the expense of communication’.

‘It’s alienating for people who don’t “get” it’, says Renwick, ‘and the lack of any strong visual system means that if you fail to spot the ever-changing logo in the corner you can mistake them for any other London cultural event.

Work Number 127 by Martin Creed, produced as an artist's poster for the Olympics

Work Number 127 by Martin Creed, produced as an artist’s poster for the Olympics

‘The idea of a flexible, do-what-you-want system sounds great in principle, but when you have so much ground to cover you need to keep it simple. In it’ attempt at demonstrating diversity it’s simply stretched itself too thinly.

‘The irony is that from wanting something radical, I’ve now found myself craving some classic posters with actual sporty stuff on…’

Readers' comments (28)

  • Loved it from day one. Well done WO.

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  • I thought the logo was rubbish when it was launched and I think exactly the same of it now. The consultancy who designed the London 2012 logo should have had an opportunity to work on it. Having said that the various applications have been quite good such as the street banners and the tickets. Team GB looks good too. It all smacked of politics at the time and nothing since then has changed my opinion of it.

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  • I think its a laugh for the UK to present itself like that! A very ugly logo which actually has ruined all the memorabilia that has to follow! Designer.

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  • I've always like the logo. I think, in a typically British way, people just poured scorn on the logo jumping on the bandwagon, simply because everyone else disliked it. Its fresh, young and has attitude. What else do you want... the expected river going through some rings via a few London landmarks? Where would the creativity be in that?

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  • It's an old story, but this work was a noble attempt at capturing Britain's diversity for sure - a bit 'street' and certainly noteworthy.

    The big challenge is that when created a few years back, a sense of future thinking, irreverence and hope was still gripping Britain.

    Post Jubilee glorification of all things traditional, combined with our dour, conservative feelings around the so called austerity times have dampened it's appeal and made it look and feel like an Olympic sized joke I'm afraid.

    I feel for the designers, but also agree it's not Britain's finest design hour.

    By contrast, I think the TeamGB kit is stunning; a sense of restraint and modernity well harnessed..

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  • I'm still not a big fan of it but it's definitely going to be remembered for a long long time.

    Outside of the Olympic rings I can't remember much of the past logos and certainly none of them have stuck in my head like this one.

    I won't forget it any time soon and I think that kind of makes it a success

    From the logo and typeface you instantly know what it is, it's London 2012

    ...or Lisa Simpson

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  • When the logo was launched; I didn't get it.
    It looks like one of those accidents you have while deleting anchor points. It looked cheap, and I couldn't see the craftsmanship.

    Now... I like its application. I like the brand development. I like how it works when placed next to other company logos... It's energetic, and it works.

    But... it still looks cheap.

    From a Designer/Brand Manager

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  • What IS Lisa Simpson doing with that man?

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  • Not very keen the 2012 logo. For me there are a variety of things that are amiss. Firstly, it is ' too hard, ' lacking flow or movement and does not read very well but overall it is very ugly. The five colour rings that are used still work better.
    We could have done a lot better, there are design houses capable of a more eventful design. db

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  • Great how the look and feel has come to life. Love the edgyness/thinking behind its rationale but with so much negative feedback (rather than pride), you have to question its execution. I do think Tiswas when i see it. (Was half expecting the Phantom Flan Flinger as the official mascot)

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