Rio 2016 Olympics logo: a closer look

Yesterday we posted a story on the furore surrounding the logo for the Rio 2016 Olympics, which was unveiled on New Year’s Eve. Today we take a closer look at the work itself.

Yesterday we posted a story on the furore surrounding the logo for the Rio 2016 Olympics, which was unveiled on New Year’s Eve. Today we take a closer look at the work itself.

Before getting in to the logo, perhaps a bit of context would be useful. It’s no use designers pining for another Otl Aicher, a master designer handed almost complete control over the visual identity of a major international sporting event: those days are gone. To create an identity for such an event today, particularly the Olympics or World Cup, is to enter into a process that is torturous, endlessly frustrating and enough to test the patience of a saint. It is a process, moreover, that flies in the face of accepted wisdom regarding what is needed to produce strong, distinctive, memorable design. There will be no single, clear, consistent decision-maker. There will be a multitude of competing interests to satisfy. And the very nature of the mechanism for even competing for the job in the first place will be so Byzantine and time-consuming that it will put many of the most talented and most suitable design studios off even getting involved.

But get involved they do and so any design studio that can make it out the other side with even a half-decent end result deserves praise for endurance, bottle and endless patience if nothing else.

And so to Rio. On New Year’s Eve, in front of nearly two million people the world got its first look at the emblem designed for the 2016 Games. It was created by Rio-based Tátil, whose other clients include Walmart and Fiat.

Tátil’s online case study (interesting that they are allowed to discuss the project given the restrictions imposed by the London organisers) talks through its strategy for the Olympics logo. The challenge, it says, was “to represent the Passion and Transformation of a city and an entire country, and project these values to the rest of the world.

A brand that must express unity. Inspire achievement and optimism. Avoid clichés and present Rio de Janeiro as the site of the largest sporting event in the world – to its very own Cariocas, and to athletes and people around the world.”

It began its research by mapping out “several Rio 2016 planets … each one with multiple references, concepts, trends and articles.”

The idea was to root the identity in the essence of Rio’s Cariocas – its citizens. “We were born from a mixture of ethnicities. We warmly embrace all ethnicities, faiths and generations. We share our sky, our ocean and our happiness with the world. This human warmth, which is part of the Carioca nature and the Olympic spirit, is shaped by the exuberant nature of a city that inspires us to live passionately and carefree, and loves to share and engage with others.”

This led Tátil to a graphic device that would (literally) depict people joining together in an exuberant, joyful way.

Colour choices were led by the Brazilian environment: “Yellow symbolises the sun and our warm, vivacious and happy nature. Blue expresses the fluidity of the water that surrounds us, and our easygoing way of life. Green represents our forests and hope, a positive vision that inspires us to go even further.”

To all this is added a rather neat, abstract reference to a Rio landmark, Pão de Açúcar or Sugarloaf Mountain, the shape of which is mapped by the logo.

Although presented initially in 2D form, the logo device was, apparently conceived as a three-dimensional form as this model illustrates.

Beneath the graphic device, Rio 2016 is picked out in a bespoke brushscript typeface – the default option for international sporting events de nos jours. Some commenters on our original story claim to see the word ‘RIO’ in the graphical device as well, though it’s not immediately obvious.

So does it work? I gave a rather flip initial assessment in the original story which some commenters took me up on (fair enough) so here’s a more considered view.

The Rio logo comes in the wake of London 2012 and so comparisons are inevitable. At a recent talk I asked the audience if they had disliked the London logo when it first appeared: the majority stuck their hands up. Then I asked them if they had changed their minds since: just a few hands remained aloft. London tore up the Great Sporting Event Logo Handbook. It almost willfully disregards the accepted way of these things: no overt geographical reference to the home city, no ‘welcoming, joyful’ attitude, no rounded, friendly organic shapes. It almost dares us to like it. And for many it remains an unmitigated design disaster.

Rio, on the other hand, seems to have gone too far in the other direction. If London is all bared teeth, Rio rolls over and wants us to tickle its tummy. Each organising committee requirement is present and correct: happy amorphous dancing people of the type seen in so many logos before (and, yes, as also seen in Matisse), soft edges where London is jagged and city landmark front and centre (though, I admit, I wouldn’t have recognised the Sugarloaf unprompted). But the Games don’t just belong to the organising committee, they belong to the citizens of the host city and, by extension, to the world.

I have no nationalistic agenda here – for all its daring the London logo remains damn ugly and I have yet to see it used happily by a third party nor brought to life in any dazzling manner. It’s not a question of whether one beats the other. And I can’t comment on whether it says ‘Rio’ – I’ve never been there – but it certainly says ‘Logo for major international sporting event’. Yes the Sugar loaf reference is clever, but the overall effect is disappointingly familiar. Perhaps it will fare better when animated or turned into public art, but in 2D form it’s just a little banal and forgettable.

Who knows what hoops Tátil had to jump through to get this far, though. Perhaps, somewhere among the early presentations, before everything was watered down and neutered, there was a fresher, more exciting take on the original idea. And perhaps these initial sketches provide a clue.

These roughs of the Sugarloaf reference are featured on the Brand New site. They’re just doodles, rushed and a bit clumsy. On their own they don’t look much but they emphasise that there is perhaps a strong, simple idea at the heart of this work. Is it too fanciful to imagine them as a starting point for an altogether warmer, more distinctive, less Photoshopped-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life route that could have given Rio something truly special?






















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  • Eric Sena

    ” And I can’t comment on whether it says ‘Rio’ – I’ve never been there”

    I think you’re missing something. The forms _spell_ the word “Rio.” Or at least they seem to. It’s a good secondary read for the symbol.

  • mogwai

    Considering it’s for the Olympics – the grand establishment of sport – it’s great.

  • Julio Medeiros

    Well, I am not a designer or so. But as a ‘carioca’, I guess it may be relevant for you if I tell my own experience at the same moment the logo was unveiled. First, I saw ‘Rio’ written in the brazilian flag’s colours, which may be also said as being Rio’s envirnment colours; then, I perceived the Sugar Loaf sillouette, indeed, and also the olympic rings. Almost immediatly after, I realized that it was threedimensional and this touched me, I do not know exactly why (one could say I was inconsciently recalling Matisse…). For me, the logo is intriguing. Its best definition is perhaps stated by the head of Tátil: “a sculpture logo for a sculpture city”. Contrarily of 2014 World Cup’s symbol, everyone I talk to is quite satisfied with Rio 2016’s. More than this, in fact: it made us happy and hopeful of some wonderful games in Rio.

  • Sam

    Excellent use of the words “passionate” “vibrant” “exuberent” “captivating” “unity” “diversity” and “celebration” in the press materials.

  • I love that this logo has this story of the Sugarloaf mountain, although it’s not at all obvious, unless I’m a little slow! I love the curves, the colours, the message and as written in this article, I don’t doubt that it was probably an exceptionally tough project to work on.
    I don’t really know what people expect from fresh work-it feels like they have very high unfair expectations.
    In summary, I like it and I’m sure I won’t be the only person with this opinion.

  • Overall, I think this is not bad. True, it’s not breaking any boundaries (especially with the, yawn, brush script) but it is at least fully resolved and works as a balanced whole.

    My biggest problem with the 2012 logo is the afterthought of where to add the Olympic rings and the word ‘london’. I like the fact the logo is brave and trying to do something new but it seems this became the be all and end all and the logo’s final purpose was forgotten. It’s almost as if Wolff Olins spent all the time coming up with the (still not fully resolved – I see Australia in the ‘0’) numbers and suddenly realised they had a client presentation in 5 minutes!

  • Stern John

    The first thing i think of when i think of Rio is Sugarloaf mountain QUESTION MARK.

    Not at all sure how these people are qualified to design an Olympic games but they’ve done a typically boring job.

  • Jon

    Apparently the green part gets smaller and smaller as the days pass on until, by the opening ceremony, it’s completely disappeared altogether. Nice attention to detail.

  • ben

    surprised no-one has mentioned capoeira yet, that was my first reading.

  • Kiran

    Wow wow wow wwwooowww no words to explain just WOW !!!

  • The logo mark makes my skin crawl. Its an involuntary reaction – I don’t want to hate it. It might just be the gradient bonanza and mixture of primary colours.

    Overall I think I’m subconsciously connecting it with the Sony Ericsson, Barclaycard, Cable and Wireless logos and other twisty gradient logos of that style. Which is not a positive feeling.

  • Rodrigo Franco

    Stern, I believe these people are as qualified to design an Olympic Games brand as our London friends. Nowadays, every logo has its own path to a hell full of critics and experts, especially a world wide logo.

  • Stella

    too many gradients, too many interpretations, it’s designers used many cute words to explain it (with so many local clichès) yet it left too many questions.
    i am also still trying to spot the orange color at the Brazilian flag.

    Considering the Brazilian World Cup logo, though…

  • “Some commenters on our original story claim to see the word ‘RIO’ in the graphical device as well, though it’s not immediately obvious.”
    First thing I saw.

  • Arthur

    It does look like a bulbous penis, unfortunately.

  • What everyone has missed is the biggest story surrounding the 2016 logo. The Telluride Foundation’s logo may be very similar, but in fact it itself is a rip off of another logo…one that dates back to 2004. Amazingly, that logo was for a carnival in…you guessed it…Brasil

    Take a look at it here

  • Here in Brazil, we are hearding a lot of explanations!!!!! Many things to think about!!!!!!

  • Looks a whole lot beter then the UKs 2012 one that’s for sure.

  • The designers have a achieved a very difficult thing in successfully balancing various brazilian reference points whilst at the same time looking to please a nation and the events organisers. Good job!
    Getting into the nitty gritty of negatives and comparisons to 2012 is a waste of time. The ratio of designers amongst the millions that will watch it (both in brazil and on television) is minutely small. Its for the people. Thats it. Its a shame the designers of the 2012 logo didn’t heed this, opting to reinvent the wheel. The Brazil 2016 has stuck to the right formula…why mess with tradition.

  • James

    I disagree with Stella regarding ‘too many gradients” ??? As far as i can see there are only 3 – one for each of the 3 elements. Without this it would appear flat and very retro, which would then get slated for being so!

    It’s not a job I would fancy…

  • Jorgen

    Well – this is not the the worst olympic logo ever – London will have that title for many years to come….

    In fact is quite good – but why didn’t they find a calm strict font for the name and year – now the three elements are figting for attention…

  • Love it.
    As a Brasilian, even though from São Paulo, I do like the justice it paid to the Marvellous City.
    It also represents the vibrancy and creativity of Brasilian culture.


  • Jackie

    Bulbous penis? The last sketch looks like some kind of chastity belt!

  • ruthlessrufus

    Brilliant, this is a genius logo the more you look at it the more it really works, sadly far better than the UK 2012 attempt!……Genius.

  • Sam

    It’s a Thong!
    I’m only half joking, that’s the first thing I thought of after I heard it was for the Rio Olympics.
    I must say though, the “journey” to get to the design is a bit of a stretch.

    RedGap Communications

  • Sam

    It’s a Thong!
    I’m only half joking, that’s the first thing I thought of after I heard it was for the Rio Olympics.
    I must say though, the “journey” to get to the design is a bit of a stretch.

    RedGap Communications

  • I’ve no idea how you get commissioned to do something like this, but imagine if you got the call! What a fabulous opportunity. Truth is that no matter what you did there would be always those who hate it. I like it, although I’d have to tweak the relationship of the elements.

  • Sam

    It’s a Thong!
    I’m only half joking, that’s the first thing I thought of after I heard it was for the Rio Olympics.
    I must say though, the “journey” to get to the design is a bit of a stretch.

    RedGap Communications

  • thebluedancer

    it’s a very common theme. i dont think plagiarism comes into it anymore. its like a graphic meme.

    the Rio logo is nice, if lacking the energy one would expect from the carnival city… on the whole it feels somewhat safe

  • Andrej Waldegg

    i understand why some of us may find it a plagiat or trendy, but my first reception was actually rather positive.
    after all, i must admit i like the lettering-part most …

  • This is a much better post Patrick ;-)…

    And as I said on the other post, all this discussion concerning the logo only shows that, nowadays, the logo by itself doesn’t mean much. We are in the branding era…

    Personally, I see lack of creativity and courage in the logo but it is still very well executed. Perhaps the judges were the problem and not the agency…

    As already pointed out by others, by itself, it may be a little bland and refer to other things which wasn’t the original intention. However, I can see a good potential as a part of a greater brand and all of the manifestations. I’m particularly interested in how the 3D concept will be put into practice, since it appears to me it is the only way to further explore it, unlike London’s logo that offers a great amount of options, regardless we like it or not.

    Said all of that, I think we will be very surprised with how the London’s logo will be manifested during the games and, perhaps (hopefully not) disappointed with Rio’s.

  • I think it’s a beautiful logo, with a rich number of applications (including 3d statues which can be climbed) and symbolises lots of what Rio is all about. Rio is a very welcoming city and the logo also incorporates the Carioca’s hug – ‘Aquele abraço !!’. I always thought one of the nicest things about the Christ The Redeemer statue is that its open arms are not a sign of suffering on the cross, but a open arms welcome to all who enter it.

    Well donen to the team who created it. I can’t wait to see it in person.

  • The logo is ok, I just think is not creative and doesn’t use properly the digital era we are all going through.

    Although it looks all right, I always ask myself when I look at the logo: “Why is this not making people hold hands in real life and in social environments?”

  • It’s a Thong! For sure!

  • ripov

    Yes-with an open crotch!
    Or maybe a surgical support for those going back home with a hernia.

  • seo

    Yeah, I would agree with Victor the logo could be much better and effective. It seem like there is plenty of room for improvement.

  • People in glass houses…our 2012 logo was a horror show. I’m loving the idea behind this logo. It’s perfect for the occasion. Stop bellyaching and start supporting Rio.

  • IA

    Anything is better than the 2012 logo.

  • @ IA – Anything is better than the 2012 logo.

    // didn’t you like the pruple bruning in your eyes? #irony

  • Lee

    Overall a successful logo in my opinion.

    The typeface looks great in motion, and closely resembles the font used for the 2014 World Cup logo whether intentionally or not. It does unfortunately also look rather similar to the Unilever logotype.

  • Epic!