Since winning two gold medals at last year’s Olympic Games, athlete Mo Farah has become one of Britain’s best known sports stars. We asked creative agency four23 about their work designing a visual identity for the record-breaking runner.
In 2011, Mo Farah was a World Athletics champion but relatively unknown among the general public. One year later, he was cheered on by millions to win two gold medals at London’s Olympic Games.
Since his double victory in the 5,000 and 10,000 metre races, Farah has been working hard to cement his position as one of the UK’s most famous sportsmen: he’s appeared on the front cover of Hello magazine, on late night and prime time panel shows and as the face of Virgin’s superfast broadband. Like most major league athletes, he is no longer Mo Farah but Mo Farah, the brand; with a logo, website and visual identity to match.
Farah’s identity was designed by four23, a creative agency based in London and Manchester and set up by Warren Bramley and Darryl Hardman. Hardman and the creative team designed two logos for the runner and are now offering design support to his official charity, the Mo Farah Foundation, which provides aid to East Africa.
The first logo is based on Farah’s signature and is used as a sign-off on products such as his official running spikes and kit. The second features a pair of outstretched wings, with an MO in between and a blue star above – a reference to Somalia, where he was born.
“The project was a direct one with Mo and his family, so no sponsors or agents were involved. From initial briefing to final sign off, the whole process took around six weeks,” says Hardman.
“Mo and his wife Tania had input from the very beginning,” he adds. “We shared a series of mood boards and questionnaires with them to get a feel for the style and direction they wanted, and we also shared initial sketches as we started to develop the concept. They were both positive and involved throughout, so it was enjoyable project to work on.”
The main logo was inspired by Farah’s habit of spreading his wings like a bird when crossing the finish line, which is usually followed by his signature pose, the Mobot. “It came from us studying Mo’s running technique, and looking into particular quirks that make him unique out on the track. We noticed his famous celebration across the finishing line and this began the basis for the wing element in the design, the proportions of which were taken from his body shape and size,” adds Hardman.
“Typographically, we started to look at the relationship between the M and the O and we soon noticed that balancing the M over the O and extending the centre of the M created the illusion of a medal. After his success at the 2012 Olympics, we felt it appropriate to tweak the design to represent the two gold medals,” he explains.
Four23 also designed an identity for UK Olympic athlete Christina Ohuruogu (above) and has worked on creative projects for footballer Lionel Messi, MotoGP star Valentino Rossi and snowboarder and skateboarder Shaun White. Ohuruogu’s butterfly icon isn’t as strong as Farah’s but also has personal significance.
“You have to remember throughout the whole process that you’re crafting a logo for a human being. So when we talk about brand personalities we’re actually taking about Mo as a person, who he is and what he believes. It’s a very personal approach – of course the actual design and craft process is the same, but you have to always remember that you’re presenting back to that person, making a logo about them,” he says.