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TOPICAL OPINION PIECE (IF WE’RE QUICK)

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The Olympic logo. That London 2012 one. You know, the one we all hate. I like it.

I know I’m hardly on the leading edge here, but I thought I would chip in before it’s too late. I reckon I’ve got a good three days or so.

I haven’t been waiting to see what other people think so that I can say, ‘me too’ or ‘told you so’. In fact I didn’t wait at all. I threw my weight into the strong discussions at the creative agency I worked for in East London when the logo was introduced. Most of my colleagues thought it was a piece of crap. Most of the opinion pieces I’ve read over the five years since it was launched, both by design writers and general pundits, have also tended towards the negative.

The main reason I didn’t write on the matter back in the day was that I didn’t have a blog, or Facebook, or any place I did that kind of thing. And the reason I want to write about it now is because now is when the logo needed to work, needed to be relevant, needed to be the funny shape in the corner of all things officially London 2012.

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The first thing I noticed once my eyes stopped fizzing at the pink on yellow logo was that the first ‘2’ looked a bit like a topological Great Britain, with London marked in the fat bit down south. I don’t know if they meant this or not but I like to think so. I spent a lot of time after that fruitlessly trying to work out what the other numbers represented beyond a zero, a one, and a question mark another two.

So, it’s not perfect. It’s very busy. It has thirty-four edges, not including the shadow, and it has things inside it such as other logos, and names of places. That’s all fine but I think it could have stopped there with a handful of single colour options, (yes you can have a different colour for the shadow, I’m not heartless). But strictly no additional patterns, flags, or other gubbins contained within it’s jaggedy form.

Wolff Olins did have a tough job when they designed the logo though. They didn’t need to work out what would grab people in 2007 when it was launched. They had to look into the future and work out how it would sit in the cultural landscape five years hence. On the flip-side, they didn’t have to worry about it becoming dated, so long as it didn’t run out of steam prior to the Games themselves. Unlike the accompanying promises of sustainability and regeneration, the logo doesn’t require longevity beyond this coming weekend.

By going with something that looked like nothing else, that dared to be ugly, out of place, and derided, they protected against the quickly waning interest a widely embraced logo would have suffered. They bet on a grower, rather than a catchy hit. If we had continued with the original candidate city logo as many people requested, and which frankly was uninspiring even back then, I can’t bear to think how unirritated and disinterested we would all be by now.

As to whether they managed to come up with a logo that’s at home in 2012, rather than 2007, I’d have to say they nailed it.

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A number of the designers who reacted badly to the Wolff Olins logo suggested their own takes, on both the logo, and the associated applications such as event posters and the like. Most of their designs were inspired by the classics, basically those Games from 1964 in Tokyo to Moscow in 1980, all of whose logos and graphic systems were wonderful, and in that late modernist style that I and so many other designers around the age of forty love. But that’s the point. Whether we like it or not, sometime between Moscow and Los Angeles four years later, that period of modernist design ended. Part of the reason we love those images is because they so perfectly evoke the period. It would have been a disservice to early twenty-first century London and an Olympics that wants to inspire a generation, to have said, ‘The best we can offer you are these cold-war leftovers. We can change the name of the town on them.’

So, it is of its time. It feels like London to me, as someone who lived there in the recent past, and is now viewing it from afar. It’s bold, quirky, a bit awkward in its need to be positioned somewhere between corporate and street. It feels like a thirty-something East London hipster, riding his dayglo BMX down Shoreditch high street on his way from the ad agency where he works as a director to the bar where his band is playing. He’s a little absurd, show-offish, and jarring to look at, but he’s enjoying himself, and he’s getting the job done. And people remember him. Probably fondly, when they reminisce. Even if they’d tell you now that they think he’s a bit of a twat.

And remember, there are people who are not yet five, and others who haven’t even been born. A generation from now they’ll be the designers, the commentators, and the tastemakers. For them the 2012 logo will always have been there. It’ll be a part of the furniture of Olympic design from years gone by. And it’ll be the logo they cite as when the Olympic Games graphics got its edge back after a generation of polite watercolours.

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