What’s in a logo? With the Rio Olympics only days away, and memories of London 2012’s pink “street art” badge still smarting, MW Studio recalls the five Games whose graphic designers captured the era and set the tone the best.

As with the Rio Olympics’ swirling moebius strip of human unity, its green and yellow reflecting Brazil’s flag and carnival culture, there are indeed some beautifully crafted Games designs out there. But sadly, they tend to be outnumbered by crimes against design, probably as a result of design by Olympic committee and politicians.

Fresh in the mind is London’s street art-inspired 2012 logo – reaction was widespread and furious, not just from the design community but from the mainstream press, too. The Guardian’s Jonathan Glancey described it as “fundamentally patronising”. More to the point, a young boy, featuring as part of an ITV news segment, articulated a nation’s reaction by simply declaring it “rubbish.”

 

 

Revisiting almost a century of Olympic logos, what stands out is how muddled the last 30 years of Olympic design have been. The last time Olympic logo’s seemed to be consistently good was, as you’d expect from such fashion-forward decades, the Sixties and Seventies.

 “The design of a memorable graphic that happily sits alongside the iconic rings, the year and city name is a demanding brief,” Mark notes, “so it’s no surprise that the simplicity of design trends during the Sixties and Seventies tended to deliver memorable graphics.

 “By contrast,” he continues, “the combination of good design and typography simply went missing during the Eighties and Nineties. If you were not a fan of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games’ stylised logo, history shows us it could have been worse. Much worse.

 “Consider the 1960 Winter Olympics in California, with its beautiful, tri-colored emblem. Or the gorgeous typography of the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico logo. Even the austere, spiral of Munich’s 1972 Summer Olympics logo, worthy of Walter Gropius. 

“It’s enough to make you weep over what design opportunities have been lost!” 

Here are five, which – according to MW Studio at least – took the opportunity with relish and succeeded where others have not…

 


 

Tokyo 1964

For the first Olympics hosted by a non-Western nation, art director Masaru Katsumi and graphic designer Yusaku Kamekura not only created an iconic logo (made up of three elements: the red ‘rising sun’ of the Japanese flag, the Olympic rings and the words ‘Tokyo 1964’ set in gold Helvetica type), but also managed to come up with a ground-breaking pictogram system that still now remains heavily influential.



 

Mexico 1968

Four years later, the American graphic designer Lance Wyman designed the identity for the Mexico Games – a mind-bending, Op art-inspired tribute to Mexican culture that remains as fresh and invigorating today as it did 44 years ago.


 

Munich 1972

Otl Aicher, as well as designing the modernist Lufthansa logo in 1962, created the branding here. Building on the structures developed by Wyman, Katsumi and Kemekura, Aicher created a standardised identity programme marked by an orderly yet adaptable design, using a colourscheme and a typeface (Univers) that established a contemporary image of Germany – essential for a country that needed to move beyond lingering memories of nationalism associated with the 1936 Games in Berlin.

 

 

Sochi 2014

A rare gem in an avalanche of mediocre Winter Games graphics. The Sochi 2014 brand was developed by Interbrand and an “Expert Brand Council” established by the Sochi organising committee. For the first time, the logo features a web address, “sochi2014.ru”, with “Sochi” placed on top of “2014”, typographically mirroring each other – intended to reflect Sochi’s geographical meeting point between sea and mountains.

Tokyo 2020 

The public was invited to vote for this Games logo, with Japanese designer Asao Tokolo’s geometric patterns emerging on top. Dubbed the “Harmonized Checkered Emblem”, the blocky yet circular logo represents different countries, cultures and ways of thinking that all come together with the Olympics. Meanwhile, the indigo blue is a traditional Japanese colour that expresses elegance and sophistication.