Will it run the distance?

The 2012 identity has been panned by the media, but the work meets its varied criteria and it has five years to prove itself, says Sarah Woods

In retrospect, Lord Coe’s grand declaration at the launch of the Wolff Olins-designed 2012 branding to ‘let yourself be inspired by what you see’, was optimistic.

First came the fanfare and excitement for the brand, closely followed by frantic criticism, howls of embarrassment and petitions to call for the logo to be redesigned.

Amid the chaos, however, there is a sense of buoyancy and poise from the ranks of Wolff Olins and the Olympic 2012 organisers, who have been unrepentant and made it clear the logo is here to stay.

According to Jez Frampton, group chief executive officer at Interbrand, and a fellow competitor for the prestigious branding work, there could be something more to come from the branding over the years leading up to the Games. ‘Don’t underestimate Wolff Olins,’ he says.

Wolff Olins has not been allowed to tell its story because of strict contractual agreements and its chief operating officer Steve Richards and chairman Brian Boylan have been forced to decline to comment to Design Week, even though there is clearly much that could be said.

It is understood that Wolff Olins staff have been shown a series of presentations explaining the creative concepts more fully to outline ‘why it is the way it is’.

There are rustlings of a trump card yet to be played, which could tie in with talk from the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games of how the logo is ‘flexible’ and will ‘evolve’. According to an e-mail seen by Design Week, sent from Wolff Olins chairman Brian Boylan, the management believe the work will eventually be revealed in all its glory and only then invite the criticism it deserves.

The London 2012 committee is adamantly sticking by the work – as are sponsors of the games, such as Visa and Lloyds TSB – for its flexibility to conform to their own colours and branding.

Parts of the design industry have lent their support, with calls for a halt to challenges from designers to recreate an acceptable logo on the back of a postcard, which is damaging to the design industry as a profession. There is also a collective acceptance that this was a difficult brief to pull off.

Frampton says, ‘We shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Knowing Wolff Olins, this is the tip of the iceberg. This is the first launch, it has got five years to work out what the brand is about and this whole debate is just about the logo. The brief was very difficult. You have to appeal to everybody. With any brand it is hard to find something that appeals to everybody. However Wolff Olins did it, it would create a positive and negative view. One of the things was to try to take the Olympics off its pedestal and take it to the street and this is exactly what the group has tried to do. A lot of young people have felt distanced from the Olympics because it is too elitist and there is a desire to engage the young.

‘This [identity] aims to be ground-breaking. Let’s see what the consultancy is going to do. Anybody who has spent any time in the industry should know that we should not underestimate Wolff Olins.’

Fellow competitor Identica is similarly supportive of the difficult task that lay ahead, but critical of the finale. ‘There were so many boxes to tick such as London, sport, youth, although it is a bit disappointing it doesn’t include any of them. Everyone is putting in suggestions to include the Olympic rings, but Wolff Olins would not have had this option. While the execution isn’t great, I think it is a clever idea and we will just get used to it,’ says brand consultant Brendan Martin.

Petitions are being signed both for and against the logo, which has been thoroughly criticised – some say it is visually confusing and embarrassing, others think it resembles a swastika or Lisa Simpson carrying out a lewd act. Hundreds of comments have been posted on the www.designweek.co.uk website, along with other news outlets and the national newspapers have been inviting design consultancies to send in their own ideas for logos.

The thinking behind the design for the logo is that it aims to be bold, deliberately spirited and unexpectedly dissonant. It was never going to feature sporting images or pictures of London landmarks. The shapes aim to be a blank canvas and will evolve to include ‘infills’, shapes created by the public. Images will include photographs of sponsorship messages over the next five years and each sporting venue will have a logo bearing a separate name. It aimed to create an impact, and if nothing else, it has certainly lived up to this intention.

A spokesman for London 2012 says, ‘The logo reflects that the future is certainly one of the things we thought about. It has got to reach young people and the best way to do that is through mobiles and websites. It is a logo that is [designed] to work across all media platforms. Because the logo is strong you will have a strong reaction. It is going to evolve. We are looking forward to 2012, clearly things will have moved on by then.’

Monday 4 June, the much-anticipated Wolff Olins-designed branding is launched at a ceremony at the Roundhouse in London

Only hours later the work has invited widespread criticism, saying it is visually confusing, embarrassing and child-like, and a petition is launched to call for the logo to be redesigned

By Tuesday, the story is front page news and the public and designers are busy scribbling down their alternative logos

Come Wednesday, the animated footage to accompany the branding is removed from the London 2012 website because it was said to have caused epileptic fits. The story is front page news on The Sun

By Wednesday night London Mayor Ken Livingstone is recommending payment be withheld from the company that produced the film (Live Communications)

But Locog maintains it is sticking by its logo saying it is ‘bold, modern, flexible and will evolve’

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