The London 2012 Logo: A Designer's View

By Published on .

Rarely has a mark ignited such a civilian spark. The London 2012 Olympics Committee likes to call the logo, from Wolff Olins, a symbol of "Everyone's Games." Rarely has a mark ignited such a civilian spark. Designers weigh in.

Paula Scher
Principal, Pentagram/N.Y.
This design is a mixed blessing. Here are the pros, and they're big ones:

1. The identity design and branding plan escapes all the insipid clichés of previous Olympics logos by refusing to utilize a torch in any fashion, and then the design continues, with marvelous gall, to completely ignore any and all references to London or the U.K. No corny Big Bens, Towers of London, crowns, crests, lions, flags. None! Thank you. This, in and of itself, is a recommendation for the new design. I'm amazed that the client didn't insist on it, and since they've signed on for this solution, the U.K. Olympics Committee must either be very enlightened, or Wolff Olins gave an amazingly persuasive presentation. Since I wasn't in the room when the idea was sold, I have to credit them both.

2. The logo design rejects traditional typography for abstract form. There is no attempt to represent a "thing" in the logo. Rather, there is an interpretation of the spirit of sport, as opposed to literal sport—all that is literally expressed is the 2012. The odd jagged shapes of the 2012 can represent power, speed, energy and explosive excitement. The bright color palette reinforces that spirit.

3. By virtue of the logo design and its extensions, the 2012 London Olympics can "own" jagged abstract shapes in bright colors. Obviously this will be accomplished with a giant campaign of print, TV and environmental design reinforcing the shapes, attaching them to all sorts of sport images, both obvious and subliminal, until the viewer is so inundated with it, that any bright colored abstract shape existing anywhere can come to mean the 2012 Olympics in London. Nice trick.

Now for the cons. There is only one: The logo is poorly crafted. It doesn't need the exterior outline; I believe that the outline exists to try to disguise the fact that the four shapes making the 2012 are so badly drawn. The intent is clear, but the four forms are legible as 2012 only at second sight. I think Wolff Olins needs to hire an illustrator to fix it up. Why not call Paul Davis and get a real piece of artwork, instead of this comp? Also, the Olympics logo positioning and the type choice for "London" are rather pathetic. Craft does matter, and right now the design is killing the beauty of the overall premise. You get it, but you don't want to look at it. Fortunately, there is plenty of time for the logo and system to evolve. Wolff Olins and the Olympics Committee should take advantage of the best talents they can find to redraw the mark and adjust the graphic details in the system. I'd give it five stars for the idea, but none for the craft.

Chip Kidd
Associate Art Director, Alfred A. Knopf
When I first saw the logo, on The Drudge Report, it was tiny and placed under a headline that read something like "Olympics logo causes furor." And because of the way it looked, especially at that size, I immediately assumed this was the symbol for the China games in '08—it appeared to obviously be a very badly stylized character of Chinese writing. So to find out it was for London just added to the shock of its ghastliness. I suppose that's the biggest offense—there's just nothing even remotely British about it. Unless you count album covers for Culture Club from decades ago, and let's just not, shall we? Who knows, maybe when they start applying it to official Olympic things like inflatable Big Ben hats and disposable decathlon diapers we'll all see how wrong we were in our disdain. But I doubt it. No stars.

Rick Valicenti
Founder/Principal, Thirst
The whole world desires better! While I applaud the courage to push this extinct design mammoth up the hill through a thicket of bureaucratic approvals, I must admit that the energy to do so could have been used to capture a more alive expression of the Olympic Games. Could it be that Wolff Olins gave the world a mirror of who they actually are as a creative force? Playing on the world's stage requires not only the courage to do so but the gifts worthy of this privilege and their 21st century moment. From where I sit in the arena: strategically, this design's spirit is unenlightened; contextually, it appears jettisoned from the bowels of mainstream; and typographically, I hear it squeal for attention from the lowest common denominators on the wannabe side of the fence. I rate this design contribution one star for effort and zero if these disposable results were accompanied by an invoice.

Lisa Simpson
Creative Director, Pearlfisher/N.Y.
Considering this brief—the 2012 logo was supposed to creatively capture London's Olympic spirit and inspire the vision that 2012 is "Everyone's Games"—one would expect the brand mark to be iconic and universally appealing. Unfortunately, this logo misses the mark on both. It seems to have been tailored toward a younger audience, seeking its inspiration and edge from graffiti language—a style that does not easily transcend the generational gap and is hard to recreate without looking forced, unsophisticated and somewhat childlike—which is, as a bottom line, how I think this logo looks and possibly why so many people are disappointed.

Overall, it feels like a failed attempt at interpreting what young British people consider to be "design cutting edge." Are we not playing to old-fashioned stereotypes here? Maybe the next generation is more discerning, design literate and stylish? Maybe their tastes lean more to sleek, minimal design—you only have to look at the success of brands such as Apple, Nike and gaming consoles like Nintendo Wii, all of which have simple, iconic branding and use a clean design aesthetic.

Interestingly many of these brands transcend age, and appeal more to a mindset, regardless of demographic. London is one of the most exciting, inspirational and design-savvy cities in the world, and this logo doesn't reflect this. However, l do like the idea that an Olympic logo doesn't just have to be a static mark—it feels right that it should have the movement and the freedom to continually evolve in interesting ways. The mark may be ugly but I guess it's brave, and for this we must salute it. Two stars.

Carl Rush
Founder/CD, Crush Design & Art Direction
Not only was the reaction to the launch of this logo in the U.K. huge and mostly negative but the BBC website saw an influx of nondesigners turning their hands to design, which resulted in the obvious, boring solutions to an identity of this scale. The Sun even "proved" that a monkey, a child and a blind person could do a "better" job. So what does this say about the design industry? Why does everyone think they're a designer? I really think this sort of reaction is quite damaging to our industry in one respect, but it's also great that people think graphic design actually matters. So Wolff Olins never had an easy job on its hands, and the reportedly $800,000 fee was probably well earned. It would be really interesting to see what came before this final logo, what the process involved and how much input the client had. They tell us that the emblem will use the Olympic spirit to inspire everyone and reach out to young people. If this was the brief, I think the logo works really well—but possibly only for this year and next. The logo looks like it takes inspiration from the U.K. "new rave" scene, but how long will this look last? Will it look horribly dated in 2012? It's the impossible design job! Four stars.

Andrew Bogucki
Principal/Chief Creative Director, Corebrand
In my mind, an Olympic logo should meet two simple standards: clearly communicate the year and place, both verbally and graphically; and capture the contradictory notions of the Games' stature and heritage with its contemporary excitement and energy. The 2012 logo hits on some points, but misses on others. To start, I find the 2012 typography hard to read. Sure, in 2012 people will know what year it is, but it's also a historical marker that needs to be remembered after the Games are over.

What is refreshing is the way the city of London has been visually expressed. Using the graphic language of a defining cultural movement—the quintessential look of English punk rock—is a brash new way to move past traditional depictions of iconic architectural or geographical landmarks. With that treatment comes a tremendous amount of energy, which is good, but it also projects a certain nihilism. While a little rebelliousness and DIY attitude is in keeping with the often iconoclastic spirit of the athletes, the implicit rejection of rules and laws doesn't quite fit. The Olympics is about as institutionalized as you can get, for better or worse—yet with that comes the gravity, prestige and honor that Olympians strive for. In short, I love the bold thinking and the energy, but I miss the gravitas and stature. This would be a great logo for the Olympics after party, though. Three stars.

Most Popular
In this article: