June 2008 and the country is up in arms. The official logo for the London Olympics of 2012 has been released and has been derided across the nation. 50,000 people sign a petition to get it changed and MPs have put forward various motions in the House of Commons requesting the same. Stephen Bayley calls it “lazy and inept and completely without energy,” and in one of the more creative critiques, author Tom Lutz thinks, “...it represents the multicoloured vomit sprayed across the capital's pavements at 3am on your average Sunday morning.” The Sun even claimed the logo gives people epileptic fits (actually it was the flashing release video that gave people epileptic fits, but “Flashing Images Triggers Epilepsy” doesn’t really have a news element). People from around the world send in their alternative logos using the jagged elements of the London one, including a man sitting on a toilet, sex acts performed by Lisa and Bart Simpson or, in a more literal sense, the shapes were amended to spell out the word S H I T.
I have never known the country to be engaged in an issue of graphic design quite so much, and it was a bracing experience. I also didn’t like the logo when I first saw it, in fact I felt embarrassed for London that we could make something so ugly to show to the world. The best I could say of it was that it was better than some of the more recent Olympic logos that were so bland as to be invisible – all swooping colours and lame re-imaginings of the Olympic rings. It had that on the other logos but not much else.
But then I saw it a few months ago on the side of a UPS van and, frankly, it looked fantastic. Against the Marmite-brown of the UPS livery it really stood out as a flouro beacon. It slightly overshadowed the UPS logo next to it but so what, the whole van is a UPS logo. Shortly after I then saw a billboard poster showing off the official sponsors of the Olympics, and it was so bold and so bright that it was at that moment that my opinions on the graphics of the Games changed completely. The poster itself was a crooked Union Jack in neon colours with the Olympic logo in the centre of the cross and the sponsors along the bottom. But it made those sponsors look great. There were some dry corporates there – BP, VISA, Panasonic Lloyds TSB – but they all looked so vibrant juxtaposed against the Olympic logo that it hit me – the new London Olympic logo is, in fact, a marketing masterstroke and here’s why.
The new Olympic Logo promises to be the most adaptable logo we have ever seen
While it seems to have a palette of neon pinks and greens, I have seen it in white or in light outlines where it needs to be a little subtler. Most Olympic logos work in their set colour and in mono but rarely are they so free as to be whatever colour fits the brief. Not only that but the logo can be filled with anything, not just colour, and I have seen it used as a frame for imagery or for the Union Jack. How many logos do you know that are willing to surrender themselves completely for the good of the context?
But the branding behind the logo is jagged and bright and vibrant and for those designers and marketers that are willing to use it as such then a whole world of brilliant and bold design can open up for them. This logo forces the hand of the advertisers to be creative and to be daring and to set things crooked, in strange colours, and with shape explosions across the page.
The elements of the logo can be broken up and used across all media as shapes, image frames or just energetic page furniture, and one suspects that using any jagged shape with a vibrant colour related to the Olympics would be ‘on-brand’.
There are going to be problems with the logo. If I was the client in the Wolf Olins pitch then I struggle to believe that I would choose the one that was chosen – it must have been a hell of a pitch that day. Despite it being hugely adaptable it will certainly prove difficult to set in some instances, and it may ruin some of the cleaner designs. By the end of the games I may well be sick to death of seeing bright flouro colours everywhere, it could turn into a nu-rave dystopia. I also hate the new typeface that goes with it. A secondary, modernist typeface like Futura would sit very nicely. But who knows, maybe the cut-out style type especially designed for the purpose will grow on me too?
While there will be inevitable problems with it, and while the country continues to grumble about the logo, it seems to me to be an amazing opportunity for the Olympics. The new logo is a way to show the world that London remains one of the truly great hubs of design, and I’m genuinely excited by the prospect of seeing the city lit up by neon pinks and greens, and pulsing with the colours of our new Olympic mark.
What do you think of it? Do you hate it, or – unlike nearly everyone – actually like the thing? Let me know below.