Designing Team GB’s Olympic gold medal stamps

‘I’ve never watched so much sport in my life, which is brilliant, obviously. As soon as another British athlete wins gold then we go into action again.’

The rather exhausted Marcus James is head of design and editorial at Royal Mail, and the man responsible for overseeing the brilliantly bonkers project to print a bespoke stamp for every British gold medallist at the London 2012 Olympic Games.

The plan was that whenever a British athlete took gold, Royal Mail would have a stamp available by lunchtime the next day, featuring the athlete or team in medal-winning action.

And that’s exactly what James and his team have done – for all 29 Team GB gold medallists.

The ambitious scheme was long in the making. James says, ‘Prior to the Olympics we looked at thousands of different images of different sports, to see how they could work on stamps.

‘We decided to work with action shots as we wanted to create a bit of variety. When Australia created a series of gold medal stamps they just used podium shots, but we wanted something a bit more dynamic.’

Structure is provided by chevron-shaped template, which was designed by an external consultancy (although due to LOCOG restrictions James can’t tell me who).

James says, ‘The template is very interesting, as it had to be something that could work with an unknown body of images – obviously we didn’t know what we were going to get.

‘The chevron shape is influenced by the London 2012 branding, and to be honest it’s been our friend – it really forces you to look carefully at the images and the crop that you’re using.

‘It also allows you to crop out background and other international athletes – the things you don’t want on the stamps.’

With everything in place, James and his team of seven designers and three editors settled down to watch the Games and wait for the medals to start flooding in.

‘Most stamp projects take around two years to come to fruition,’ says James, ‘with a design period of eight-ten months. With these stamps we had about an hour to design them.’

As soon as the medals were won, the images started to come in from Getty. ‘If it’s a prominent sport you can get a lot of choice,’ says James, ‘if not then you might get so many.’

While the intention was to use images of the athletes in the process of winning gold, some images break out of this mould – for example omnium winner Laura Trott kissing her medal or women’s double sculls victors Anna Watkins and Katherine Grainger on the podium.

As soon as the designs were signed off, the stamps went into production and distribution – to more than 500 post offices across the country.

And the designers were allowed to miss out one vital step to save time. By law, all stamps published by the Royal Mail must be signed off by The Queen, but obviously in this case there wasn’t be time to do this. ‘She pre-approved the concept though,’ James assures us.

All 29 of the London 2012 gold medallist stamps will be available until 31 December at post offices and through www.royalmail.com.

Royal Mail will also be releasing individual stamps for each gold medal winner in the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

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