Social Science blog

30 August 2011

Olympic Designs

 Simone Bacchini writes:

Recently, I’ve sent out two tweets about Olympic logos. One tweet merely referred our readers to the existence of a website that’s catalogued most logos of the modern Olympics The other was a link to an article by Justin McGuirk on the unveiling of the Brazilian logo for the 2016 Games, containing the author’s musings on the art of creating a successful Olympic logo

 I agree with McGuirk. Nowadays, briefs for designers ask for too much. Logos are supposed to convey far too many messages: values such as inclusiveness and diversity; emotions such as “passion” and “transformation” (as in: the-unifying-power-of-sport-will-transform-you). And if too much is asked of a logo (a LOGO, for goodness sake!) we end up – as McGuirk points out – with too little or – to put it differently – blandness. The latter, according to McGuirk, is often down to the requirement that the logo be “inoffensive”.

 In my opinion, simplicity tends to win, and endure. Just think of religious symbols (bear with me on this, after all I’m the one who blogged about the Olympics and St. Augustine). Christianity: two intersecting lines and there you have it; the cross. Islam: the simple crescent; and the Star of David (or Magen David, the “shield” of David, to give it its proper name): two intersecting triangles. What strikes me about these symbols is first of all that – like I said – from a design point of view they are simple. Secondly, they are instantly recognisable and, as a result of the two previous factors, they are still in use after centuries.

 There is something else. Behind each of the religious symbols mentioned lie strong, meaningful values; bold statements of belief, with which one might   agree or disagree. The symbols, reflecting this, are bold too, without trying too hard which – McGuirk opines – is one of the reasons behind much of current Olympic imagery failing to make a (lasting) impression.

 McGuirk lists some of the logos that – in his view – have been successful: Otl Acher’s logo for Munich 1972 (and especially the pictograms depicting the different sports), Lance Wyman’s design for Mexico 1968 (my personal favourite), and Ivan Chairmayeff’s logo for the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. He did leave out, however, the Olympic logo par excellence: the Olympic rings. True, his article was about logos for individual Games and their host cities. But I’m of the opinion that the rings – because they possess all the qualities I mentioned when talking about religious symbols – are here to stay. Notwithstanding all the transformations the Games will undoubtedly go through, those five intersecting rings will endure.

 Long live good design then; even when (or perhaps especially when) it happens accidentally.


Aicher, O. The World as Design. Berlin: Ernst & Sohn, 1994

DS shelfmark: m03/33574

 Evamy, M. Logo. London: Laurence King. 2007.

London reference collections shelfmark: YK.2008.a.20961


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