17th August 2016

The Olympic Logo Medal Table

by Chris Muir, Senior Designer

Just like the athletes achievements themselves, the story behind the Olympic logos are often where the real interest lies…

Let’s be honest Olympic logos themselves are, on the whole, generally pretty dull, forgettable things. There have been exceptions though; Mexico ’68, Munich ’72 and London 2012 are rare success stories. Mostly though they are wonderful examples of the sort of bland, languid dirge that is nearly always the result of design by a big corporate committee.


There has been plenty of writing about the Olympic logos, you can browse and read a pretty succinct review of them all by John Brownlee here.

At best they form an interesting visual guide to design history. You can see how the design has developed from the early classical styles of Paris ’24 and L.A. ’32, through the introduction of modernist influences in Helsinki ’52 to the standardised ‘corporate guideline’ structures from the tail end of the 80’s right up until 2012.


Commonly the efforts of the 1960’s and 70’s are regarded as the high water mark, with Mexico ‘68 and Munich ‘72 the particular highlights. They are good examples of why and how integrated design systems provide stronger more cohesive and ultimately successful solutions. You can learn more about Lance Wyman’s work on the Mexico ’68 and a lot more here and Otl Aichers work on the unfortunate Munich ’72 games here. Both are really worth a read.


From the mid-80’s until 2012 it looked like the Olympic committee were using a logo generator with a ‘Windows 95’ filter setting. Homogenous icon stacked on Olympic rings on top of the event location. Very drab. Very repetitive. Very forgettable.

And then came London 2012. There was an amazing amount of conjecture at the time. Even when Wally Olins (commenting on it as the former chairman of Wolf Olins who were responsible for the design) cautioned:

“What’s interesting is that it’s so new and because it is new it is startling… People produce something entirely new that is very unexpected and the reaction is shock, horror.’


That rationale didn’t dispel or dampen the quite extraordinarily vitriolic abuse it received though. I suspect once it had been seen in context and once people’s tastes had evolved a bit, the shock and horror mostly made way for acceptance that it was a success and did indeed achieve its goals. I think the logo and the design of those games in general are a testament to the quality and energy of the UK’s design industry. Lots more info and interesting insight from the people involved can be found here


It’s ironic that the carnival city is hosting as Rio’s branding feels rather…insipid. The logo itself is pleasant enough but to me it lacks an edge. The strength of it is the font, developed specifically by Dalton mag. The fluid, scriptive style is carried through a pretty successful set of pictograms and the graphic treatment of venue, geographic and cultural illustrations that form the backdrop for rest of the branding. Sadly though, from a country that has such energy, edge and drama it’s all pretty flat. Where’s the raw hustle, bustle, banging whirling, pulsing sound and energy of a carnival? See for yourself and find out more about it here.


However, before Rio has even lunged across the finish line the Tokyo Olympic logo has already had one false start and has now fallen flat on its face… After having to withdraw the original design by designer Kenjiro Sano due to allegations of plagiarism they then launched a public competition to find a replacement… urgh!


There was much to disappoint in that whole process and it doesn’t instill much confidence in the roll out of it all, but then disappointment and the Olympic organisation is a fairly common association.

For an event that elicits such emotion from the public and demands such excellence from the participants it’s a shame that the same level of performance isn’t delivered by the marketing department or ethics committee.

Footnote: It’s probably worth noting some other words from Wally Olins when you take in the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic logo

I think context will be important but I’m not holding my breathe…

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Chris Muir, Senior Designer

The Olympic Logo Medal Table