Fred Gelli on designing “the most complex visual identity in the world” for Rio 2016

19 February 2016

This summer, athletes from around the world will descend on Rio for the 2016 Olympic and Paralympic games. The festival of sport has become a behemoth of an institution that is sold as a catalyst for regeneration, a celebration of culture and societal values, a metaphor for global brotherhood as well a series of competitions to determine who run fast or throw things furthest. The five ringed symbol of the Olympics was designed in 1912 by Pierre de Coubertin and remains a constant. Alongside this, every host city commissions a design that embodies the spirit of the games and the culture of the nation.

To design the Olympic brand involves following in the footsteps of the likes of Lance Wyman (Mexico 68), Masaru Katsumi and Yusaku Kamekura (Tokyo 64) and Wolff Olins (London 2012). In September 2009, selected from over 1000 interested designers, Rio employed Tatil, founded by Fred Gelli, to design its logo. “I love Munich [by Otl Aicher 1962] – it’s beautiful and simple. The whole identity,” says Fred. “I liked London too. No one else liked it. They did the opposite to what we have done – they simply did what they wanted to do and paid a price for it.”

Fred describes the Olympic Logo as “The most complex visual identity in the world.” He identified a number of factors that the logo had to achieve – it had to reflect local culture, be universally understood, be dynamic, innovative, make people happy, have a sense of the Carioca way of life and remain fresh for a long period of time. “The target audience was the entire world,” said Fred on stage at Design Indaba in Cape Town. “It will be seen on a mobile screen in Manhattan and on a piece of paper in a remote town in Brazil. It was a huge challenge. You try to use the values that underpin the Olympics, like union and togetherness, something bigger than sport, to create something that will inspire people.”

Tatil produced a logo in green, yellow and blue reflecting the Brazillian flag and the landscape of the country. The company also set themselves the challenge of creating something new – to bring the logo to life in a different way. “The first thing we did was to look for an archetype that can present our particular way of life. So we chose the humans linking hands, embracing as it was easily understandable,” says Fred. “The first time I met [IOC president] Jaques Rogge he said ‘Fred your Logo is amazing. I have travelled around the world and Rio and Vrazil is the only place I am received with hugs.’ I think that this is the most important thing, to create something simple that everyone could understand, even if the process of creating the logo was difficult.”

Fred and his team have created two logos, one for the Olympics and one for the Paralympics. They have different concepts but both break new ground for the Olympic logo by virtue of being a tridimensional emblem. “One of the trickiest things was to ensure the relationship between the 2D logo and the 3D logo. It has to be the same, not two different things,” explains Fred. The form of the logo is inspired by the natural shapes of the landscape around Rio, abstracted to create fluid curves that, if positioned carefully, follow the contours of the landscape. “People are now seeing things in the logo that we did not consider,” says Fred.


Tatil, Rio 2016


Tatil, Rio 2016


Tatil, Rio 2016

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Owen Pritchard

Owen joined It’s Nice That as Editor in November of 2015 leading and overseeing all editorial content across online, print and the events programme, before leaving in early 2018.

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