• Logolead

    The London 2012 logo (courtesy Wolff Olins)

Graphic Design

Designing London 2012: The Wolff Olins logo and all THAT controversy

Posted by Rob Alderson,

“We don’t do bland. This is not a bland city. We weren’t going to come to you with a dull or dry corporate logo that will appear on a polo shirt and we’re all gardening in it, in a year’s time.” So said Seb Coe in a bid to stem the tide of criticism when the Wolff Olins Olympic logo was launched in 2007. What was extraordinary was not the level of criticism from within the design community but the frothing fury of the press as columnists queued up to rage against the LOCOG machine (almost always with mention of the reported £400,000 fee).

Take Jonathan Glancey from the Guardian arts blog for instance, who called it “fundamentally patronising,” created by designers “ fed up with the whole bullying, secretive, puerile London Olympics fiasco."

Contrasting it unfavourably with the original Olympic rings he pointed out: “The logo fails the Olympics spirit completely. Its component parts are broken apart, while the Olympics are all about athletes, spectators and nations joining together.” Others likened it to a swastika, to Lisa Simpson doing something unspeakable and even covert propaganda on the charge that it looks like “zion.”

  • 0b90f179fd25be442a10e98cb6d5daf4

    The London 2012 logo in the press (courtesy Wolff Olins)

For Wolff Olins who designed it, the backlash was not unexpected (although the scale and nature of it was). This was a brand, not a logo we were told, built to make sense in 2012 not 2007. “It is unconventionally bold, deliberately spirited and unexpectedly dissonant, echoing London’s qualities of a modern, edgy city," reads their website. "Containing neither sporting images nor pictures of London landmarks, the emblem shows that the Games are more than London, more than sport…The emblem is designed to be populated, to contain infills and images, so it is recognizable enough for everyone to feel and be part of London 2012.”

But the critics were not to be placated. Shortly after it was unveiled, Adrian Shaughnessy on Design Observer dismissed it as “a solid gold stinker” which looked “as if it has been designed by a committee desperate to prove its street credentials.” He went on: “It is a clumsy, oafish design; a self-conscious gesture of forced trendiness that failed every test you can apply to a new logo: clarity, precision, memorability.”

  • 36c8844dbeb61ea6c1edde279f5ef985

    The London 2012 logo (courtesy Wolff Olins)

  • 05b76d7264926216dda28b1d52a5af46

    The London 2012 logo (courtesy Wolff Olins)

But in 2008 Adrian met Wolff Olins’ chairman Brian Boylan and creative director Patrick Cox and reassessed some of his previous vitriol. “I still think it’s a mistake,” he wrote, “but my gripe with it has always been aesthetic: the drop shadows and the garish buzz of the nu-rave colours make it into a visual irritant rather than an inspirational graphic statement. “And yet, the Web 2.0 philosophy that underpins it—users are encouraged to make their own versions of it—is inspirational, and a blast of freshness into the airless world of stodgy brand thinking.” He has continued to modify his original reaction in the latest issue of Creative Review.

So what about the rest of us? Sceptics have remained – two years ago Alice Rawsthorn in The New York Times called it “the graphic equivalent of… dad dancing” and comment threads on stories about the logo make for interesting reading.

“The logo fails the Olympics spirit completely. Its component parts are broken apart, while the Olympics are all about athletes, spectators and nations joining together.”

Jonatahan Glancey

But while champions of the logo once relied very much on its ability to stir up graphic design debate as its greatest strength, other voices have come forward with more nuanced reflections.

On Creative Bloq designer Joe Stone wrote: “The brilliant use of the CMYK-inspired colour scheme also goes against the tradition of using the host nation’s colours, saving us from yet another lame use of the Union Jack plastered across a brand identity.”

And he says the accusations that it is ugly mirrors the London’s own aesthetic shortcomings. “London itself was never designed to be aesthetically pleasing. It’s a mesh of organically grown streets full of different styles and cultures. It’s not an ugly city by any means, but it’s not ‘pretty’. I think the logo with its sharp angles, strong shapes, defined edges and bright colours does a great job of representing the actual traits of London.”

I am not sure I like it but as a visual shorthand it’s easily spotted amid the visual assault of all things Olympic. Having had to be signed off by various high-powered commercial interests – all of whom needed it to work with their identities – it was never going to be the most cutting-edge piece of graphic design. And even if it hasn’t quite come into its own in the way we were promised in 2007 it does seem far less jarring than it originally appeared. And you’re right Seb, it’s certainly not bland…

  • 3b146dfc8a331ed8a17a41e2b00e9ff0

    The London 2012 logo (courtesy Wolff Olins)

  • Dce9669c852f27a6af79a8b9099f221f

    The London 2012 logo (courtesy Wolff Olins)

  • B9cee63ae4262f88a8e6d057d24c6c38

    The London 2012 logo (courtesy Wolff Olins)

Ra

Posted by Rob Alderson

Editor-in-Chief Rob oversees editorial across all three It’s Nice That platforms; online, print and events. He has a background in newspaper journalism and a particular interest in art, advertising and photography. He is the main host of the Studio Audience podcast.

Most Recent: Graphic Design View Archive

  1. List

    It’s the overriding rule of all things trend-driven that as soon as we take a big leap forward in technology we start to look back nostalgically, triggering all manner of retro imagery, touches and techniques. At least it seems that way, and I’m sure I’m not alone in how often I’m drawn to graphic design which places hand-drawn type and recycled imagery alongside high-tech touches.

  2. List

    At its core, dance is about innovation, beauty and movement – ideas executed brilliantly in this identity for a European contemporary dance festival by Verena Hennig and Ludwig Janoff. The clever designs take a very hand-crafted, even scrawled look, aiming to play on the idea that “the classic ballet thrives on the idea of perfection,” according to Verena.

  3. List

    Parisian studio Playground’s website really does reflect its name – a joyful metaphorical ball-pond of colour and fun. The studio works on graphic design, illustration, branding and motion graphics projects; uniting all their work through a fantastic eye for colour and line to retina-grabbing effect. As something of a huge Of Montreal fan, I was particularly drawn in by their work for the band’s 2012 release Daughter of Cloud, which offers a lush, psychedelic alternative to their usual illustration-led artwork.

  4. List

    Wilfred van der Weide was once part of Dutch design duo wilfredtimo, whose work we’ve been admirers of since we came across these superheroic graphics in 2012. After several years in each other’s pockets they’ve gone their separate ways, but unlike most break-ups, some of the results have been beautiful.

  5. List

    Dutch designer Roosje Klap recently set up an international initiative known as The Design Displacement Group with the intention of approaching modern design in new and unusual ways. Their intention is to “form a group together which creates work as seen from the future. Yes! We time-travel 20 years and look back on today, to understand the discourse of graphic design as it is happening today – with different eyes and speculative future categories.

  6. List

    Belgian designer Corbin Mahieu learned his craft at the prestigious Sint Lucas School of Arts in Ghent, following in the footsteps of a legion of other respected Belgian designers and illustrators. His work is academic in style; specifically focussed on arts projects for the local creative community in Ghent. Although he’s recently completed an internship in London at Zak Group, presumably developing into further spheres of design in the process. Pictured is a beautifully realised catalogue for his alma mater, exploring the facilities and faculty in detail.We’d say he’s definitely one to watch, and hopefully he’s sticking around in London a little longer.

  7. Furnlist

    Berlin-based consultancy D describes itself as a “two-headed quadruped that focuses on graphic design and illustration” that “was born, speaks, thinks, and of course eats Italian.” It’s this heritage and appetite that explains the beautiful identity work the studio has created for Italian furniture design factory Edizione Limitata. We don’t often get excited about catalogues, but this one really is lovely, showing well-shot images of the furniture alongside more playful, painterly illustrations with brushstrokes and doodle-like patterns acting as a lovely contract to the slick imagery of the pieces on sale. It’s great to see the usually rather serious world of furniture given a less stony-faced identity, though the careful use of colour and typography as shown on business cards, stationery and technical sheets still shows Edizione Limitata as very much the high-end Italian operation.

  8. List

    There’s nothing heavy-handed about Seoul-based design studio fnt’s work. It’s like the graphic design equivalent of that little dish of mint-flavoured ice cream you get handed between courses at fancy restaurants to refresh your palette; something about their refined use of thin lines in muted colours on a white background feels newly delicate, when you’ve spent several hours being accosted by great slabs of colour and text that feel like a knock to the head. Maybe it has something to do with the Korean script, introducing a whole new realm of possibilities to the ways they treat typography, or the studio’s willingness to dabble in patterns and geometric shapes in a simple and understated way to jazz up otherwise clean layouts.

  9. List

    Furniture, typefaces, identities and posters, websites, limited edition fashion lines, music packaging and abstract works all exist within the broad practice of Berlin-based designer Till Wiedeck. Under the moniker of HelloMe, he’s been a constant creative force on the contemporary graphic design scene for the past six years, accumulating big-name clients like The New York Times, COS and Warp Records among others. This recent work for German/French art fund Perspektive, is characteristic of Till’s holistic approach to his process, with print collateral, web and all other elements of the identity created by the studio, all united by a bespoke typeface.

  10. List

    It’s all well and good writing about slick, big-client, big-agency graphic design. But once in a while it’s bloody lovely to cast our eyes over a graphic design project that takes itself not-so-seriously. One photographed using Polaroid, and sent to us as if broadcast directly from amidst a 90s Kevin Smith film. The projection questions is the visual identity for Baohaus – a restaurant that takes its name as a smart little play on, er, bauhaus and Bao – the form of Taiwanese food the restaurant specialises in.

  11. List

    Some people may be already winding down for Christmas but not so Rob Gonzalez and Jonathan Quainton, aka Sawdust. They’ve just updated their site with so much new work that we were genuinely spoiled for choice when it came to selecting what to focus on. Great typographic illustrations for_Men’s Health_,_ Wired and The New Republic didn’t make the cut on this occasion; instead we decided to showcase two very different, but equally excellent, print projects.

  12. Listhkagw-1

    It can’t be easy working on a brief set by a client that’s both an art event organised by a non-profit and a big banking firm. How best to balance a slick, serious look with one that shows creative awareness? For The Partners’ branding for the new Bank of China-sponsored Hong Kong Art Gallery Week event, the consultancy cleverly chose to look to a sense of place to inspire its look, which is informed by the area’s hilly topography. The event bring together more than 50 local galleries and museums, who spend ten days opening their spaces up for all, aiming to promote the work of local artists and contemporary Chinese Hong Kong art to the world.

  13. List

    There’s something deliciously tactile about Anne Jordan’s book cover designs. Much of her work unites a very materials-driven approach with clever typography, resulting in work that makes a two-dimensional image feel extraordinarily physical. The designer is based in Rochester, New York, and is also one-half of the duo behind the Walking blog, a rather sweet project in which she and her husband take half an hour a day to make something creative and post it online. However, we wanted to focus on her designs for books; and especially hone in on the way she takes an often oblique title and creates a design that plays off it, frequenly in smart, unexcited ways. Her look for The Woman Who Read Too Much, for instance, plays with cliched images of femininity like hair and curves to render the title less legible; and the look for Kevin McLauhlin’s Poetic Force uses feint lettering and thin-to-breaking-point paper as a backdrop. The choices seem obvious as we write them down but her work is anything but, creating covers that delight and make you think in equal measure.