Design in a sporting role

As the Commonwealth Games get underway in Manchester, James Knight is under starter’s orders to find out how our British design talent is performing

Tomorrow’s opening of the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games marks the start of the UK’s largest ever multi-sport event. And though the sporting prowess of the competitors will be the centre of attention, a whole gamut of design skills have been employed in creating an experience that will live on long after the circus has left town.

From the stadium itself, designed by Arup Associates and Arup, to merchandising opportunities such as an educational CD-ROM by Cardiff-based Productive Play, designers across a wide range of disciplines have been involved in almost every aspect of the games.

Perhaps the most obvious design influence lies in the event’s branding. The ‘spirit of friendship’ logo, originally designed by Race, formerly Drawing Board and redesigned by Access Marketing & Design (DW 17 May 2001) now dominates Manchester, displayed on every billboard, motorway exit sign, taxi and supermarket shelf.

The motif of three figures joining hands atop a podium encapsulates the Commonwealth themes of togetherness and equality, but it also resembles an ‘M’ for Manchester, and a crown, to coincide with the Golden Jubilee, says Manchester 2002 commercial director Niels de Vos.

For de Vos, ‘the Games started with a design premise’. Before a single starting pistol has been fired, the games is wholly embodied by its logo, which must successfully sell the idea, he says.

Unlike the Olympics, The Commonwealth Games doesn’t have an instantly recognisable marque, so the logo will never be anchored in the same way, says de Vos. But a clear identity was absolutely vital in securing the kind of sponsorship deals that enabled the event to go ahead, he adds.

Access Marketing & Design was brought on board last year to develop and build on the look of the games, according to its creative director Sarah Parker.

Its most obvious input was the creation of a versatile sub-brand that can complement the main logo or act as a standalone identity. It has been designed to look like a burst of fireworks in portrait format, and a crowd of heads in landscape, she says.

A client group known as The Look Committee, under the leadership of ex-graphic designer and Sydney 2000 veteran Matthew Cheshire controls every aspect of how branding will be applied.

De Vos says Cheshire and his team will achieve something remarkable: every single shot of TV footage, whether a bird’s eye view of the stadium, or the close-up of a weightlifter’s hands grabbing a barbell, will feature some element of Manchester 2002 branding. With an estimated worldwide television audience of one billion, the level of brand exposure is considerable.

The needs of television also dictated changes to the original logo. Access Marketing & Design softened some of the imagery, and redesigned the main font to improve readability. The original yellow of the logo was camera-tested and had to be made warmer.

Most of the stadium dressing has been done in jade green, and to a lesser extent red, which looks even better on TV, and as Parker points out, doesn’t interfere too much with the city’s footballing loyalties, (although Manchester City fans might disagree).

And design input hasn’t been limited to branding. Manchester 2002 is the first major sporting event in which able-bodied and disabled athletes are competing as part of the same programme. This has demanded a unified solution for the podium, which was the challenge for London-based event organisers Beam (DW 20 June).

They responded with a lightweight aluminium 3m x 1m platform that could easily be fitted to other units. This is useful when the podium space has to grow to accommodate, for example, wheelchair relay teams, explains Beam operations director Alan Cobbold.

The podiums have been kept reasonably low, 300mm for a gold medallist and 200mm for both silver and bronze, so athletes in wheelchairs can receive medals without any awkward stretching by volunteers, says Cobbold. The podiums also feature a bar set back from the front edge, so blind athletes know where they are.

The Queen’s Jubilee Baton enters the newly-constructed City of Manchester Stadium tomorrow, after touring the country since March. Designed by Ideo (DW 26 July 2001), the aluminium baton emits a blade of light from its sides, which has been created by the runner’s pulse rate.

Sensors embedded in the conductivity-plated handle monitor pulse rate, and the readings are converted to LED signals.

The capsule also holds a message from the Queen, which will be extracted and read out by her at the opening ceremony. The Olympic torch seems positively archaic by comparison.

If there’s still time to draw breath amid the design innovation, the opening and closing ceremonies are intended to set the tone for the games. Sydney got it right with Kylie Minogue and now Jack Morton Worldwide is in charge of creating both showcase ceremonies for Manchester 2002. With a £12m budget and Mancunian characteristics of ‘humour, irreverence and wit’ to express, the consultancy’s closely guarded secrets will be revealed to the world tomorrow night.

As the games kick off, we can only hope such a well-designed event also delivers the sporting results Britain is hoping for.

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