London 2012: the creative Olympics

Well, it’s over. The athletes have had their medals, but what about the creative industries’ contribution? Time to look back over the design and advertising highlights of the London 2012 Olympics

Well, it’s over. The athletes have had their medals, but what about the creative industries’ contribution? Time to look back over the design and advertising highlights of the London 2012 Olympics

In the new spirit of post-2012 positivity (how long will that last, I wonder) I’m going to restrict this 2012 round-up to the success stories of 2012. So, who in the creative world had a good games?


Thomas Heatherwick
From the moment it was lit to its last flicker, Heatherwick Studio’s cauldron was an absolute star of the Games. Conceptually brilliant and utterly beautiful it was one of the most succesful examples of an ambition among the Games’ organisers to reinvent the familiar elements of the Olympics – from the logo to the opening ceremony to the approach to venues. It hasn’t attracted much comment as yet but one of the best things about London 2012 was this desire to question the way in which these things have been done in the past and try to take a new approach to them. It didn’t always work but the Cauldron (of which more here) was a triumph. And, like all the best parties, the guests get to take a bit home with them.


Barber Osgerby
Recognisably part of the 2012 look but with a beauty all its own, the 2012 Torch was an undoubted success. It was criticised in some quarters for not having an obvious cultural or historic reference to London or the UK in the way that the torches for Beijing and Athens did but this was very much in line with LOCOG’s overall determination to avoid cliché.


Danny Boyle
Bonkers and brilliant, the Opening Ceremony was far better than anybody expected. Just how hard it is to make something like this truly engaging and original was, unfortunately, illustrated by the Closing Ceremony.


Crystal CG and Tait Technologies
One of the highlights of Danny Boyle’s spectacular was the animated graphics created by LOCOG and Crystal CG. Which leads us to another great 2012 innovation – the use of 70,500 LED Pixel Tablets designed by Tait Technologies. Each one featured nine pixels arranged in a square. Over 70 minutes of animation was created to run on the system by Crystal CG for the Opening Ceremony, with more for the Closing Ceremony plus the two Paralympics ceremonies. Crystal was briefed by Danny Boyle to try to bring the audience in the stadium into the show, which it did spectacularly.


The organisers’ approach of treating each session of the Games as some kind of TV light entertainment show wasn’t to all tastes but we were particularly struck by the use of the big screens. We posted here about the various elements employed, from the informational to the inspirational (again by Crystal CG and LOCOG’s in-house team) but probably the best piece we saw was the Tron-inspired, Chemical Brothers soundtracked animation that introduced the action in the Velodrome (above).


Sarah Price and the planting team
Yes, the venues in the Olympic Park were spectacular and innovative (particularly the temporary elements) but while they have been extensively praised elsewhere we want to put in a word for the planting. As with many new-build sites, the Olympic Park could have been a bit bleak. All those hard edges were smoothed considerably by the beautiful and imaginative planting all around the site. We’re not exactly expert gardeners here at CR but there’s a good interview with the principal designer on the project, Sarah Price, on the Telegraph site here).


Bob Ellis
Created by Bob Ellis Equestrian Services, the showjumping fences in Greenwich were an unexpected pleasure, typical of 2012’s innovative approach. We had a London bus, Tower Bridge (sketch shown above, see all of them here), an Abbey Road tribute, Charles Darwin, the Penny Black and even (in a brilliantly Spinal Tap moment) a mini Stonehenge.

Image: Horse Junkies United


Sid Lee
Our current issue has a great (though we do say it ourselves) piece by Eliza on whether or not sponsoring the Olympics is a huge waste of time and money for brands. Adidas evidentally thinks it’s worthwhile as it is one of the official partners. In the past, its campaigns, not just for the Olympics but also for the World Cup for which it is also an official sponsor, have not always been up to the mark creatively but Sid Lee’s Take The Stage work was refreshingly different (see our original post here). We particularly liked the clean photographic approach to press and poster, its illustrated Metro wraps (produced with Church of London) and its joyous Team GB sign off. However…


Nike seems to have done it again with most people apparently believing that it and not Adidas was an Olympic sponsor, something that Nike has managed to pull off at most big international sporting events in recent memory. A major help was the Volt line of shoes whose fluorescent yellow form stood out in every event. What also helped was the curious habit of so many Nike-sponsored athletes of taking off said shoes as soon as their event was over and the cameras were on them, and draping the shoes over their shoulders in a highly visible manner. Coincidence? Or maybe the shoes were just really uncomfortable and they couldn’t wait to take them off?


While other brands were firmly excluded from the venues, BMW managed cunningly to infiltrate the stadium via its remote controlled Minis, used to retrieve the javelins, discuses and hammers hurled therein and via the vehicles used in the Closing Ceremony (Rolls Royce being owned by the BMW group now). By the way, there’s a nice Guardian interview with a young volunteer who had one of the plum jobs of the Games – driving one of the remote controlled Minis, here.



Team GB branding
While sales of official 2012 merchandise have reportedly disappointed, items featuring the Team GB logo (created by Antidote) seem to have been much more popular. Certainly when visiting the Olympic Park last week, the Team GB logo was far more evident on clothing and bags than the 2012 one. Of course, some of this will be due to Brits wanting to support their team, but it may also be due to the relative aesthetic appeal of the two logos.


Channel 4
While all the focus has been on the Olympics, Channel 4 has reminded us that the Paralympics are still to come with a wonderful piece of filmmaking by director Tom Tagholm (see our post here) and a cheeky press and poster campaign.



Olympic Park wayfaring beacon by Surface Architects


The ‘Look’ team
The logo is still unloved by many, but the way the 2012 look was created and applied across the Olympic Park, London and all over the UK, with the cooperation of local authorities, the GLA, TFL, sponsors etc, was unprecedented (for much more detail on this, see our post here and exclusive interview with LOCOG’s marketing chief Greg Nugent here). We were promised a brand and not just a logo, a comprehensive visual experience to an extent not seen in previous Games. Futurebrand and LOCOG (building on Wolff Olins’ original work and using Gareth Hague’s typeface) along with architectural partners Surface Architects, delivered just that. Now they have to do it all over again for the Paralympics.



Wolff Olins
I was in the US for the first half of the Olympics. Watching their TV coverage and reading the local papers, what came through was a sense of London and the UK as a place of innovation, humour, self-deprecation and an endearing kind of wackiness. There was much talk of how Britons had softened their ‘stiff upper lip’ and how open and friendly everyone was. These are ‘brand values’ to die for. Wolff Olins has to take a lot of credit here. In our current issue, in Adrian Shaughnessy’s piece, WO’s Brian Boylan and ex-creative director Patrick Cox talk for the first time about what they originally presented to LOCOG for 2012 and their ambitions for the brand. London was not going to follow the clichéd Olympics model: the desire to treat all aspects of the Games as never before springs from this initial work. So we have Wolff Olins to thank, at least in part, for some of the best things about the Games – the Opening Ceremony, for the venues, for the volunteers, even down to one of the last acts of 2012, turning a Heathrow car park into a special terminal for departing athletes. The impetus for all this came from the brand that Wolff Olins created for 2012. Too much emphasis has been placed on the aesthetic appeal (or lack thereof) of the logo (incidentally our current issue has a fascinating image from the sketchbook of designer Luke Gifford showing the logo’s development, which has never been published before). As I wrote in my intro to this month’s issue, I still can’t bring myself to love it and I do think that the goals of 2012 could have been achieved with something more appealing, but I absolutely admire the thinking behind what WO did for 2012. They set in motion, from the very beginning, a principle that London would reinvent what it means to host an Olympic Games. That principle succeeded brilliantly.


There were lots of other things to admire at London 2012 – the venue architecture, the art in the Olympic Park (the Orbit excepted), the Swiss team’s rather nice use of Helvetica. Let us know your personal favourites below.


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CR in Print
The August Olympic Special issue of Creative Review contains a series of features that explore the past and present of the Games to mark the opening of London 2012: Adrian Shaughnessy reappraises Wolff Olins’ 2012 logo, Patrick Burgoyne talks to LOCOG’s Greg Nugent about how Wolff Olins’ original brand identity has been transformed into one consistent look for 2012, Eliza Williams investigates the role of sponsorship by global brands of the Games, Mark Sinclair asks Ian McLaren what it was like working with Otl Aicher as a member of his 1972 Munich Olympics design studio, Swiss designer Markus Osterwalder shows off some of his prize Olympic items from his vast archive, and much more. Plus, Rick Poynor’s assessment of this year’s Recontres d’Arles photography festival, and Michael Evamy on the genius of Yusaku Kamekura’s emblem for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

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  • tim

    The design as a whole was great – the tickets, inside the venues etc. – but after several years and many looks the logo is still impossible to enjoy, it still says “zoiz” and it’s still dis-jointed and inaccessible. Fortunately this was in great contrast to the games themselves.

  • Andrew

    The typeface really came into it’s own, and let’s not forget the Stella Macartney Olympic uniforms, the cycling team looked especially good, job well done

  • I’ve really enjoyed the positivity and the creativity we’ve been surrounded by over the last few weeks, and it’s not over (I love the ‘Thank you for the warm up’ campaign).

    The amount of global coverage and the number of views my personal ‘Olympic Logo a Day’ blog has received has astounded me. It started as a quick, tongue-in-cheek idea and for a while its positivity was flying against the public mood, but then the sun came out, Danny Boyle made us proud to be part of this creatively bonkers nation and it was hard not to smile.

    Sarah Hyndman

  • I too have found it difficult to like the logo. Your article puts an interesting angle on this which is food for thought. The associated graphics have been very good. I also was particularly taken by the fantastic banks of planting in the Olympic Park which suggested a care and attention to the smallest detail not usually associated with such a large scale event. As the years pass by I can envisage these areas growing in beauty.

  • Constantine

    So much to remember (with totally unexpected absorption in virtually every event), from the brilliantly conceived and organised torch relay – never more than 10 miles from any community, 8,000 carriers of whom half were under twelve, and many of whom were disabled. Thousands more people watched the relay than had been expected, and a swell of support for the Games started before they began. Then the breathtakingly brilliant opening ceremony, with its closing section of the workers’ guard of honour, the choice of Olympic flagbearers, the handing of the torch to future athletes and the stunning, stunning Heatherwick cauldron (very well described above in the article). The volunteers, rightly praised in all quarters. The carefully chosen routes of the exterior events, showing London at its touristic best – well photographed, too. The planning, the considered thought, the execution, all seamless. Pity about the Closer – let’s gloss over that – but I did have a lump in my throat as the Heatherwick turned downwards and the flames flickered and died.

  • Papi

    The logo, however much WO try to glorify and explain the thought process behind it, is still shit. Why wasnt an explanation offered at the launch? See my versions of posters using my version of the logo.

  • The closing ceremony was disappointing except for the Damien Hirst Union Jack floor of the stadium, which looked great.

  • Paulo

    Wow, some strong anti-logo comments on here. Last thing I knew, “zoiz” wasn’t a word in the English language… it doesn’t take a genius to read what the logo actually says, regardless of whether you like the look of it or not.
    I also like the fact it avoids all the possible clichés one would expect the London logo to have (the Thames, Tower Bridge… etc).
    Personally, I don’t like the Rio 2016 logo; it’s a tad generic and will be forgotten far quicker than our 2012 logo. (Whether that be for negative or positive reasons).
    The worst thing about the whole event was the closing ceremony. It was a jukebox of “classic” British rock’n’pop, apparently.
    The bets thing I’ve seen is Channel 4’s Paralympic campaign. It takes itself (and the athletes) seriously, but it’s got cheek.

  • mark

    Whatever your views of the logo, you have to admit, 7 odd years ago when that decision was made (and lets not underestimate how ballsy that decision was) it completely set the ball rolling to produce the type of Olympics we’ve just witnessed.

    Bob Ellis’s jumps for equestrian were nice and quirky for that environment, but just think how easily that could have been replicated across the entire Olympics and thank God it didn’t.

    Gold medal for all those involved right at the beginning for taking a risk.

  • Emma

    Agree with the comments relating to the typeface. I think it worked really well – very iconic.
    ‘That logo’, well there’s been enough said about it already, in my opinion the best version of it was when it included the union jack. TEAM GB won the attire ‘brand-off’. The 2012 T-shirts were poor, why is it that women’s T-shirts are always pants in the design stakes. We like cool funky graphic ones too…I digress.

    On the whole, the amazing triumphs, overall design and spirit of the Games eclipsed ‘that logo’ issue. And anyway, we all know it’s never just about the logo. In this case, thank god.

  • Geoff

    I wonder how Thomas Heatherwick felt about that giant neon Las Vegas chicken thing that the geniuses behind the closing ceremony bolted on to his beautiful Cauldron

  • Liza Whitney

    Ever since the unveiling of that logo, I have seen it’s potential despite the widespread criticism.
    It was like no other logo I’d seen before and it’s application was creative, practical and cheeky.
    Well done Wolff Olins! Well done London!
    *What* a visually spectacular Olympic Games we had here.

  • @LizaWhitney

    Agreed. Was a very brave decision for both WO and Olympic Committee.
    Love it or hate it, the logo paved the way for everything else. I really quite like it.
    Ask anyone if they remember the 2012 logo in 20 years…


    An exclamation was given at launch, it was very clear and they explained exactly what we’ve just seen staged.

    That link you gave quite petty.
    I was expecting your own interpretation of an international brand application across print, web & film, for the two largest sporting events in the world. That can also then be carried forward by 100s of different organisations with clear practical methods of application that result in a fully cohesive and recognisable brand while also keeping integrity and solid consistency.
    Guess not.

  • I still can’t accept the 2012 logo which, although there is an interesting idea at its core, is simply unfinished. My biggest beef is the after-thought of ‘london’ and the Olympic rings. To me, it smacks of everyone involved quite simply forgetting these elements needed to be included until they were far too far down the line. I can just imagine the ‘Oh S**t!’ moment.
    I was looking forward to seeing the brand in action over the course of the games to see if familiarity would change my opinion. As an event, the games have been awesome and I’ve been enthralled from start to finish. As for the brand, I hate it more than ever, and I never liked it.
    I hate the typeface even more – it’s poorly conceived and poorly executed and looked nasty everywhere it was used. And it was used everywhere. The same goes for the tickets (thrown together) and the application of the ‘planes of colour’ just clashed with everything it was used on. It’s as if it was designed isolated from application and then forced onto everything.
    Beyond the 2012 logo itself, the opening ceremony was far better than I expected. I loved the dawn of the Industrial revolution.
    The biggest success though, was the light show, which was, at times, truly spectacular and must have been truly incredible for those lucky enough to be in the stadium.

  • No reason to be sad…

    We should commemorate sheer hard work and determination…

  • Olympics and art are inseparable from the very beginning. Olympics gave out medals for art for the first four decades. If the Olympics is still giving out medals for art now, the Olympics Cauldron and the cheeky channel 4 post certainly won medals for my vote.

    If Olympics is a celebration of human body, the most important part of the body brain has been celebrated.


  • Rashida

    We are in the world of communication! Why in hell would you, should you explain what was the thinking behind the London Olympics logo. It should communicate on its own. Must say it is a gawdawful logo!

  • PatrickBurgoyne

    `@ Andi

    I’d recommend reading Adrian Shaughnessy’s interview with WO in our current issue. The decision from the start was to base the brand on 2012 – a year of events plus ongoing so-called ‘legacy’ of which the Olympics and Paralympics were to be a (central) part. The idea was that the 2012 mark could exist before and after the games and for events and programmes that were part of ‘2012’ but not directly part of the Olympics. For the Games themselves, the word ‘London’ and the rings could be added to the core mark.

    I tried to make this point in the piece but, just to reiterate, what I wanted to highlight was an aspect of WO’s work that was far more important than drawing the logo and that was in helping to set in place and articulate the guiding strategy of the 2012 Games which was to deliver it in a way that had not been done before. That ‘positioning’ gave all those involved something to work from, whether they were directing the Opening Ceremony, designing buildings, doing the planting etc They could all look at their individual task and say ‘right, how can we do this in a new, innovative way?’

    Too often this ‘strategic’ aspect of design consultancies’ work comes across as bullshit used to post-rationalise executions. But done well it is extremely valuable and, if graphic design is going to be able to compete against the £25 logo merchants, is where the ‘professionals’ can really help differentiate themselves.

  • On the strategy point, it’s interesting how the slogan played a big part – ‘Inspire a generation’. When it was first unveiled, it struck me as dull and unimaginative, reading more like the brief than the solution. But its great strength is the way it sets a single-minded goal, particularly in comparison to previous slogans – ‘One World, One Dream’ (Beijing), ‘In The True Spirit Of The Games’ (Athens), and ‘Share The Spirit’ (Sydney). Compared to those, this one sets a clear direction. Whatever the creative problem, you can look at it and think – what would the ‘Inspire a generation’ solution be? In retrospect, the idea of young athletes lighting the torch was the only way to go. Just a shame Kim Gavin and the closing ceremony team didn’t read the brief.

  • I agree with most of the comments about the logo still not rocking the main stage – it still feels very Nickelodeon to me but everything that has fallen off the back of it looked great. A great celebration of sport and design.

  • My opinion on the logo and brand hasn’t really altered in the past seven years. I’ve always applauded the ambition by WO to move away from the cliched logos of old. Regardless of the ambitions though, I just don’t like it. I’ve read the justification but I still question the decision to focus the marque on ‘2012’ rather than ‘London.’ For me this was illustrated best by ‘London 2012’ written in that typeface, being the main visual focus at the venues. For me there seemed to be something missing – the logo just wasn’t fulfilling it’s purpose.

    The London 2012 logo will always divide opinion and I suspect for a lot of people it will always be seen as an opportunity wasted, regardless of the apparent recent spike of enthusiasm for the logo.

  • Leah

    I thought there was so much more they could have done with the approach to retail, both in terms of overall strategy and the design of the spaces. What a missed opportunity with very long queues outside 2012 shops on site, and also inside with people desperate to buy a momento of the experience. Where was the disruptive/nomadic retail? What a no-brainer! Looked very much like a last minute job, such a shame not only from a lost revenue perspective, I saw many people give up on frustration, and it was a low point in an otherwise first class visitor experience at the Park.

  • Alex S

    The only thing I disagree with in the article, is The ‘Look’ team.
    To me, it looked like all the negative press about the logo and branding lead to a softening of the approach. All the edginess and youthfulness was removed and we were left with something very conservative.
    Like it or loathe it, it was only going to work if it was carried through with conviction. This was lacking for me.

    It didn’t detract from the overall experience too much, but imagine what it would have been like if that Velodrome video up there set the tone for the venue graphics, signage, etc.

    Just my 2p

  • I love the 2012 logo…did from the beginning, I’d have loved a ticket for the cycling; overall I thought the graphic design was stunning.

  • A great games and visual communication to boot. A true lesson in brand foresight and longevity and applying this across a broad spectrum of visuals. I even warmed to the logo in the end. I still think the main typeface looks like it was created with masking tape though.

  • John


    It’s not just the logo, the whole brand identity is awful. There is a reason why the ”strategic’ aspect of design consultancies’ work comes across as bullshit’ and that’s because it often is. It’s all very well talking about ‘positioning’ but ultimately, the branding should not only answer the brief but it also has to work aesthetically as well.

  • I love the 2012 logo…did from the beginning, I’d have loved a ticket for the cycling; overall I thought the graphic design was stunning.

  • Eoin

    The ‘Inspire a Generation’ tagline on the inside of the basketball rims, so it could only be seen during free throws from certain angles was a lovely subtle but powerful use of the games mantra.

  • Katrina

    Was the omission of Stella McCartney from this review intentional? If so, well done. The GB cyclists did look slick, but then so did most of those competing in the Velodrome. It was the US team in Ralph Lauren that won in the style stakes.

  • maarten kas

    Its over? what about the paralympics…its allways a deception when people say the olympics are over many forget the paralympics and he fearce competition they expose themselves to. Pay them some respect as we do with the olympics!

  • Well, we still have the great opening ceremony in our minds. In overall, the show of Olympics 2012 was great. I must say that all £££ were worth spending in order to receive back such emotional thrill! We wait for PARAOLYMPICS now!

  • David

    Two things mentioned above that surprisingly stood out for me were:
    The plants and flowers, really pretty and not something I was expecting when I went.
    The showjumping fences, fun, quirky but classy