Familiarity Breeds Contempt


Yet another horrendous piece of graphic design plops through the mat of the poor benighted inhabitants of London’s Olympics boroughs and yet again they as one recoil at the hideosness of the logo. (A hideousness which I want to explain but not reproduce, largely because it makes any page or any screen that it sits on look skewed or cranked.) At the time it was launched, the consensus of course was that the logo was bad because it tried to be youthful, as the comments to this Guardian story at the time make clear. This is certainly the case. The colour palette is bright and vibrant, the pink and yellow is particularly redolent of eighties children’s TV graphics. To continue in a more generous vein, the shadow effect is pure 80s retro which recalls some of the work in Dazed from around the beginning of the decade.

Through time though, we’ve learned the real problem with the graphic design. The real problem is that this is not a piece of graphic design. The real problem with the logo is that it is a still from a piece of animation. Watching the promotional video to the logo for the umpteenth time, we watch pieces of dynamic colour flowing through London, parts of which form the ultimate logo, which arrives quivering at the Games. The logic behind the design is the logic of regeneration. Like Freddie Mercury in the It’s a Kind of Magic, streaks of life and colour will fly through London and turn a grey world into a colourful one, which is a typical piece of vanity, that we are beginning to expect from Locog, the Games organising committee.

Bizarrely for its dismissal at the time as infantile, it is also the most overtly political of logos. Not only is it self-consciously highlighting the Games as an agency of animation; bringing colour to a supposedly dead space, it doesn’t represent the Games itself. It is a vehicle for creating the significance of the Olympics as one particularly perceptive observer noted at the time. Typically this person came from outwith the field of design. Oh for a Lance Wyman.

In the mid-Sixties, a young American industrial designer, Lance Wyman was given the task of creating the graphics for the Mexico Olympics in 1968. He used the hieroglyphics of the country’s pre-Columban architecture to create a system of legible yet recognisably Mexican logo designs. (See above.) The 1968 Games were the first to be fully televised to a mass audience. Wyman was not aware of the huge leap in mass communication his work would be part of but because of its strong fundamental principles, the design provided a backdrop to the drama of Bob Beaman’s massive triple jump, the Black Power salutes of the American athletes and the dramatic unfolding of a major sports event. The Games of 1968 are still referred to as the Graphic Games. Not bad for a 29-year old.

As for Wolff Ollins’ 2012 design, it provides none of the identity or sense of place or sense of history required of Olympics logo design. There seems to be little faith in the event in itself providing the excitement and too much in the impact the Games will have on the physical fabric of the city. Tessa Jowell calls it “edgy.” Certainly the jagged edges fight with the principle of the original Olympic logo. The font that the word London is rendered in is, frankly, an embarrassment. When you place it on any page it immediately fights with the grid layout of pictures and text. I imagine that editors in the print media will be less inclined to use it as a result. Wally Ollins, partner of the Wolff Ollins practice is a truly thoughtful and clever advertising executive who helped plot Seat’s re-emergence as Spain opened up following the death of Franco. I’m not sure though whether the practice in which he is partner are designers. They were after all behind  the hugely unpopular BT “piper” logo. Which lasted from 1993-2001. Unfortunately we’ll have to put up with his latest forever.


About cosmopolitanscum

Journalist, writer, commentator, blogging about architecture, urbanism and design from a humanist perspective.
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