Fit: Olympics-inspired posters by designers

When the 2012 Olympics artists posters were released last year, a collective howl of protest arose from the graphic design community: why weren’t we given the chance to do these? Well now they have been

When the 2012 Olympics artists posters were released last year, a collective howl of protest arose from the graphic design community: why weren’t we given the chance to do these? Well now they have been

Fit is an exhibition of London 2012-inspired posters by contemporary British-based graphic designers at Central St Martins. It was put together by Jonathan Barnbrook and Vaughan Oliver. Frustrated by what they saw as the exclusion of graphic design from the Olympics, and inspired by the challenge laid down by the artists series, Barnbrook and Oliver decided to stop moaning and do something about it. And so, they invited leading UK-based designers (those who, conceivably, may have been officially invited to tackle such a brief) to create a poster inspired by 2012 and sport in general.

So, will the resultant images teach LOCOG the error of its ways? Will Seb Coe be rueing the day he ignored the serried ranks of design’s great and good? Has, in effect, design made its point?

Yes and no. The results are just as uneven as the artists series – as uneven as the work any project of this nature would engender. This is a ‘phoney’, theoretical exercise, with no commissioner to guide it, no degree of control over the submissions (save for those rejected on copyright grounds). Just as, I suspect, happened with the artists series, some have taken it very seriousy, others not so much. Some have really put themselves in the shoes of a designer officially commissioned to do a real Olympic poster, some have just made highly personal responses.

It is the former, where designers are utilising their communication skills more than their artistic ones, that I feel work better. So, for example, Bibliotheque drew on what has perhpas been the most succesful piece commissioned for the games so far, Barber Osgerby’s torch, in their poster:


Build paid tribute to Harry Beck in creating a poster with a direct reference to a London icon – the kind of ‘storied’ approach with great appeal to foreign visitors that London 2012 has shied away from.


Matt Willey’s submission was very much in the spirit of official Olympics posters of times past


While David Pearson’s has a touch of E McKnight Kauffer about it


Others dealt more directly with sport, including two beautiful posters from Jonathan Barnbrook, one on cycling, the other archery.


And Domenic Lippa took the current world 100m record times for men and women as his inspiration


Horse 23 by Vaughan Oliver and Si Scott


Others were inspired more by the stories and spirit behind sporting endeavour. Tomato, for example, created a series of three posters called Olympic Origins based on the early experiences of three British athletes.


Phil Baines listed out past British medallists


Fuel issued an impassioned plea to try harder


Others were more esoteric or playful. Jeremy Leslie’s Hoopless removed the five Os (Olympic Rings) in his message


Marina Willer and Ian Osborne riffed on the show’s title, Fit


Ian Anderson had words of encouragement, of a sort


As did Morag Myerscough


While Catherine Dixon was more consoling


And Graham Wood was, well, Graham Wood. Which is fine by me.


While Angus Hyland passed comment on the way that the IOC jealously guards its copyright (the small print at the foot of his poster is the IOC copyright notice on the rings)


While Alan Kitching found a way around such issues


One thing that certainly didn’t work in the favour of the work on show at CSM was that all were displayed as digital prints, pinned roughtly to the wall. Inkjet or screenprinting would have really lifted many of the designs, underlining the importance of production to graphic work.

If I was to apply the strictly subjectve criterion of which of these I would have on my wall compared to how many from the artists series, I’d put the Fit posters marginally ahead. On balance, I find the designers’ efforts more immediately engaging and relevant than the artsists’ but, given their respective training and skills, that is to be expected.

There’s good and bad in the show – as you must expect from this kind of exercise. At the very least, Barnbrook and Oliver have given graphic design a platform which it has so-far been largely denied in 2012 and they should be applauded for that. The posters don’t prove irrefutably that designers are ‘better’ at this exercise than artists, nor that they should have been given the task instead of the artists commissioned by LOCOG. But designers could have been given a different task – that of producing series of posters with a specific communications objective for the Games which would have really allowed them to make the most of their talents.


Fit is at the Lethaby Gallery, CSM, 1 Granary Square London N1C 4AA until July 9 and the Window Gallery at the same location until August 30. Money raised from sales of prints of the posters will go toward student bursaries at CSM. Posters can be purchased here.

The full list of contributors is: Ian Anderson, Phil Baines, Jonathan Barnbrook, Neville Brody, Catherine Dixon, Fuel, GTF, Angus Hyland, Alan Kitching, Jeremy Leslie, Domenic Lippa, Morag Myerscough, Vaughan Oliver, David Pearson, Michael Place, Tomato, Why Not Associates, Matt Willey, Marina Willer, Graham Wood and Michael Worthington.


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  • tom

    Both as poor as the other… apart from these ‘graphic design’ ones have just succumbed to the obvious.
    Use tube related imagery – tick
    Use 5 rings – tick
    Use retro ‘on trend’ typography – tick

    Lippa and Baines ones the only strong contenders for something you’d actually want to keep/put on a wall

  • Jon

    Some good some bad, Bibliotheque, Morag Myerscough and Build are my highlights. Worryingly though as a whole I think that the artists posters are better.

  • I am underwhelmed. The language of graphic design is cluttered with over speak visually. I think creatives are reading less and watching too much pop culture nonsense. There is no cohesion, the themes are pedantic and there is no surprise or mystery to the stories being told. The messages are not even clear. I do agree with the above post Tom, who writes that Phil Baines work is worthy of hanging in public. As is Domenic Lippa. I also think that David Pearson’s piece had good potential, if not for the 4 square type issues.

  • Sam

    There are some great and some shite. Kitching absolutely nailed it. I bet this brief was way harder than it looks.

  • Hate all of them. Except Matt Willey’s.

  • TM

    I love the Bibliotheque poster.

  • PH

    Okay, so let’s recap on the zeitgeist. We’ve got a global recession that’s worse than any in living memory; we’ve got aftershocks of the Arab spring still rumbling away; riots and protests in major Western cities; banks and media corporations laundering their reputations; a decade-long war/invasion that the Allies haven’t really won; record-breaking freakish weather systems; Olympic sponsors who’ve bought themselves some coloured haloes; the list could go on and on…

    Aside from Angus Hyland’s piece, might not Central St. Martins have come up with something a teeny bit more edgy?

    Personally, I’d like to have seen some of them engage the brand-gestapo head-on with a bit of “ad-busting”. Imagine the end result: an authentic-looking London Transport tube poster (co-branded IOC / London Underground Limited / HSE) that might be posted around central London: “Public Notice. Health and Safety Warning. You are now entering a shoot-to-kill zone.”

    Don’t think it would make it into the “book of the exhibition” though…

  • james

    Shame about the curation of this, excellent work, exhibition set up looks real shoddy.

  • “Fit” by Willer and Osborne is the stand out piece here for me. I like that it strikes a balance between the use of bold horizontal stripes (which seem to subtly reference the tube) while the word “FIT” makes an obvious connection to the Olympics itself. It had a lovely colour scheme to boot.

    I’ve done a few posters for an Olympic related event myself, if anyone wants to have a look

  • Not as passionately against the designs as some others above, but Matt Willey’s was my favourite. Bibliotheque pretty cool as well.

  • Do not make me destroy you.

  • Ray

    ‘The great and the good’ . . . Christ I nearly stopped reading. I would have done if it hadn’t been for the fact that I was one those that moaned the last time round. CR really must stop congratulating the same fucking bunch of designers all of the time!

    My own order of preference:
    Gold – Angus Hyland
    Silver – David Pearson
    Bronze – Matt Willey

    A couple of decent efforts but a lot cluttered visual language here. I would also like to have seen this brief opened right out rather than to the (over-hyped) in-crowd. Would have like to have seen a lot more humour and parody, . . . but maybe that is just my taste for such briefs.

  • PatrickBurgoyne

    @ Ray

    Oh dear. You don’t think that perhaps I didn’t mean the line ‘Will Seb Coe be rueing the day he ignored the serried ranks of design’s great and good?’ entirely seriously by any chance?

    ‘CR really must stop congratulating the same fucking bunch of designers all of the time!’
    We didn’t have anything to do with choosing the people who went into the show. I saw it last night and have included some of my favourites here – that’s what ‘reviewing’ is all about.

    As for choosing ‘different’ names, you’ve just awarded your gold to a partner from Pentagram, your silver to someone whose work has featured all over the design press and awards shows in recent years and the bronze to the creative director of Port, another familiar name here and elsewhere.


  • Andy

    Domenic Lippa needs some new fonts installed on his computer!!!

    They’re all fairly harmless and in the spirit of things. Nice work I say!

  • Cheesy

    Like Phil Baines, Grahame Wood & Barber Osgerby.

    I do like Patrick Burgoyne. :-) that is my happy face.

  • suze

    Lippa & Kitching for me!!

  • Michael

    Better than the artists contributions last year. Direct, bold….inkeeping with the tradition of olympic posters of the past.

    I do agree with Ray in terms of the organizers of the show opening this out to less established designers.

    Would have been a great opportunity to be part of something spectacular ( not so much the show as 2012 itself)

  • Zoran

    “why weren’t we given the chance to do these?”
    Pretty evident.

    When I see poster competitions hover around pointlessness with pointless results it makes me cringe as a Graphic Designer myself.

  • Tom j

    Grafik magazine’s Olympik exhibition pulled a similar thing off a while ago. I loved this

  • Anon

    Jonathan Barnbrook – another pretentious graphic designer doing pointless exhibitions and ‘changing the world’. *snore* Most of these are cliched and not in the spirit of the Olympics.

  • Barber Osgerby’s torch and Jonathan Barnbrook’s archery are beautiful. They captured the spirit of the Olympics rather well — edgy but traditional, grand yet simple, old but forward-looking. The rest are grafitti-like, so much like mere writings on the wall, particularly the lettered ones.

  • Jon

    Where are the ideas?

  • Selen

    Being pro-active about an issue we all have expressed concern about deserve better comments than these. Seriously fellow designers you have to get over yourselves and support people if they do something like this. Even if sometimes it doesn’t fit in with your idea of what the end result should be IT IS commendable. Instead it appears you are all full of hatred for anybody who could possibly stick there necks out and do something like this. The majority of us have done zero about this issue, it is just a bit embarrassing to read your vitriolic reactions.

  • Terry S

    Quality is variable here. Looks like some people took this as a project much more seriously than others. So some vey nice work from Oliver, Barnbrook, Myerscough, Tomato and Fuel, but a few turkeys in there too. Problem of commissioning people i guess, you have to take what they give you in the end, cant think it must have been easy dealing with the list of ‘star designers’ here on that one!

  • Becky

    I went along to the exhibition and thought the collection worked really well as a whole. There were some clever and visually beautiful designs there. Some I’ll admit weren’t to my taste but they’ve provided a provocative talking point for the debate on the Olympics and design. I wonder how hard it is to design one of these, thinking about how wide the brief is, I can see it’s not an easy task. I commend the designers that took part.

  • Dear Terry S,
    I agree with you. Just look at this design: Horse 23 by Vaughan Oliver and Si Scott and compare it to 2+0+1+2 poster. Both made at different level, of course the horse took much more time to complete, however it is a big of genius to see the relation between the year 2012 and 5 Olympic rings. It is a matter of difference what makes all these posters so special.