The Olympic Brand
In the 2012 London Olympics, as in many others, Michael Phelps dominated the headlines. Any time he took his place poolside, all eyes were on him. Our eyes, however, were looking just behind him. All around the world’s best athletes, there it is: the London 2012 identity system.
It’s a complex system, from environmental graphics and wayfinding to programs, tickets – on and on. The most publicly discussed part of the system is of course the logo. A controversial design, rants on the mark have claimed it looks like Lisa Simpson, or that it spells Zion. As a rule, good design should start with a good concept. So what’s the thinking behind the jagged, geometric letterforms?
It all starts back in 1997, believe it or not. That’s when type designer Gareth Hague designed his typeface, Klute. This face sought to unify modern, angular forms with old-fashioned calligraphy and Black-letter forms. Old meets new. Not a bad concept for the 2012 Olympics, dubbed by some the first “social Olympics”. Indeed it was Klute that inspired global branding consultancy firm Wolff Olins, when they designed the logo in 2007. Charles Wright, director at Wolff Olins, says the mark “had to belong to the streets as opposed to an institution. This language had to be rooted in something. We wanted to return to the meaning of Olympism – energy.” They explain that the shape itself came from “an energy grid we drew of lines that moved around, contained within a rectangle, which we stopped at one particular moment.”
But the logo isn’t the only design element you’ll see when you tune in. In some events, the main component is text set in a custom typeface, simply called 2012 Headline. It’s iconic and unique. Some say it can be a bit unreadable, but don’t worry – the Olympic committee has an old favorite reserved for official documents. Futura, desingned in 1927 by Paul Renner, is the official typeface for body copy.
2012 Headline is based on rigid lines and angles, but the typeface brings the London Olympic identity full circle. Wolff Olins commissioned the type design from none other than the man whose ’97 typeface inspired it all: Gareth Hague, along with associate Michael Ives.
So the next time you tune in to watch world-class swimming, running or even trampolining, keep an eye on the background for a glimpse at equally exciting design. And let us know your thoughts. Is the 2012 London logo growing on you? Did your opinion change when you saw it in the context of the games? What do you think of the concept behind the design?
Want to see more of the London Olympic identity in action? See great examples of branded collateral at It’s Nice That.