Designing London 2012: The graphic elements – medals, typefaces, tickets, and THAT palette
- Catherine Gaffney
- 1 August 2012
This summer in London, it’s everywhere – walking down high streets, wandering past billboards, and rushing through tube stations: that fluttering magenta, that slightly jagged, spaced out typography… Yes, it’s the London 2012 identity, greeted with trepidation by some and for months heralding, in its slightly medieval, banner-like fashion, the impending crowds, transport disruptions, and mass-excitement of the Games.
With tickets in people’s pockets, signposts leading the way, and medals being doled out left right and centre, we figure it’s high time we investigated the design of all this ephemera. Much of the work is pretty collaborative, with separate agencies responsible for different aspects of the overall appearance. But perhaps we should start with the top prizes, the traditional “well done” gold, siver and bronze awarded to the top three athletes in any given event. And so ladies and gentlemen, we bring you…
The London 2012 medals were designed by David Watkin, Professor of Goldsmithing, Silversmithing, Metalworking, and Jewellery at the Royal College of Art since 1984, and were produced at the Royal Mint’s headquarters in Llantrisant, south Wales. The front of the medal carries the traditional imagery used at every summer Games – the Greek goddess of victory, Nike, stepping out of the Parthenon to visit the host city. The reverse side features a bespoke design, with the London 2012 logo placed upon various intersecting linear elements and a thick curving shape that represents the Thames. The geometric architectural lines are supposed to represent the fabric of the city, while the medal-ribbons themselves are purple on account of the Queen’s jubilee this year. Might just be nice to see a few more around Team GB necks though…
I was only vaguely aware of the hullabaloo surrounding the purchase of tickets way earlier in the year when I had neither the time nor the money to give it a thought. Now… I definitely want one, so will try to figure out how to make that happen! Right this minute though, I’m content to just sit back and analyse their appearance. Produced for Olympics and Paralympics, they’re designed by FutureBrand, using the pictograms designed in turn by SomeOne. There is a nice immediacy to them; even if you hadn’t already been inundated with London 2012 visual data, you’d be reminded of the stark silhouette-style works of Saul Bass or the Otl Aicher pictograms for the 1972 Munich Games.
Indeed, pictograms developed by SomeOne for the London 2012 version drew from the visual history of the Games but gave things a London twist by building them out of linear components reminiscent of the London Underground map. Produced in vibrant shades of red, purple, pink and blue, the visuals evoke energy, fun, and vigour, and evoke the spellbinding movement of the athletes depicted, along with the mesmerising metamorphosis of Thomas Heatherwick’s beautifully designed torch. Just the ticket indeed.
It’s absolutely everywhere and in a whole variety of Games-contexts, and exploring its history makes for interesting reading. Basically, the Klute font, produced by Gareth Hague of Alias Type Foundry & Graphic Design Agency in 1997, was used as the inspiration for the Olympics 2012 logo, designed by Wolff Olins. Klute features thick, bold, angular forms, as though assembled of shard-like components. The Wolff Olins logo (more of which anon in this series) is built of similar shard-like elements which build the word “2012”, and are produced in lively palettes of turquoise-green, magenta, red and blue. Hague in turn then had to produce a font which would fit with this logo, and the result was Headline 2012, derived from the Klute font but filtered through the Wolff Olins logo to arrive at a narrower, more jagged result.
More generalised, but no less prominent, is the issue of the colour. Who arrived at the decision to paint the town pink? It’s absolutely everywhere, and will possibly become so synonymous with the 2012 Games that “Sporting Triumph” may live on in the pink shades of paint sample books, nestled incongruously between “Strawberry Magnolia” or “Tulip Sunrise”. Apparently inspired by “the worlds of media, communication, and fashion”, though it is interesting to note that the use of pink, orange, blue and green steers clear of specific nationalist or political associations and, in that sense, is perhaps more universal or all-embracing.
The pink has been criticised in some graphics arenas, as primary colours are regarded as more fashionable, but then again, speak to any Londoner who hasn’t at least noticed the pink and try to maintain that this was a poor design move. Hey, it’s gotten us talking, anyway!
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