Olympukes 2012

In 2004 Jon Barnbrook’s foundry VirusFonts reinterpreted the Olympic pictogram in a series of designs that “acknowledged the complex contradictions of the modern Olympics.” Launching today, a new range of Olympukes symbols has been created to reflect on London 2012

olympukes388_0.jpg - Olympukes 2012 - 4567

In 2004 Jon Barnbrook’s foundry VirusFonts reinterpreted the Olympic pictogram in a series of designs that “acknowledged the complex contradictions of the modern Olympics.” Launching today, a new range of Olympukes symbols has been created to reflect on London 2012…

“The occasion of the London 2012 games gives us an opportunity to revisit this concept,” say the studio on their blog, “not only because VirusFonts is based in London but also much has changed globally in the last eight years.”

‘A’ from the Olympukes set: ‘Overzealous policing of Olympic name’

Acknowledging the commercialism inherent to the modern Olympics, Virus explain that the new Olympukes range also makes reference to the economic climate in which the Games are being staged. “Ironically, the last time London hosted the Olympics, they were nicknamed the Austerity Games,” the studio writes. “Sixty-four years later, we find ourselves back in an era of austere cuts which serves to highlight the absurd expense of the 2012 games.”

‘H’ from the Olympukes set: ‘Hypocritical sponsorship deals’

The hot potato of Games ‘security’ is also dealt with graphically. “What was a little more unexpected is the excessive security measures due to be employed by a supposedly liberal democracy,” say Virus. “But then again, in a country with an estimated 1.8 million CCTV cameras, maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised.”

Taken together the 2012 Olympukes look at the “complaints, controversies and accusations levelled at the London Games and associated events”, rendering some of the more familiar Games-related media stories in pictogrammatic form. One recurring theme addressed in the project is the militarisation of Olympic security, evoked in a general sense in the yellow graphic (above) and, more specifically, in the stationing of surface-to-air missles on various buildings in east London, as shown in blue (also above). The full set of 52 pictograms can be seen here.

Olympukes 2012 is available in dark and light weights in the multi-platform OpenType format. To download Olympukes 2012 visit the VirusFonts website and create an account (users will then be able to download the font for free). The 2004 series is also available here.


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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 amember of his 1972 Munich Olympics design studio, Swiss designer Markus Osterwalder shows off some of his prize Olympic items from his vast archive, and 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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  • If those are too depressing check out these by Olly Moss:

  • andy

    Gotta luv Barnbrook. One of the few British designers who always produces work that doesn’t tow the corporate line and makes it with a lot of quality too. Hats off to him.

    @Luke Tonge
    Incredibly weak stuff by Olly Moss and definitely not worth a post. Just goes to show how much work & ideas has gone into the above project.

  • re first image “launching today” OH!

  • Lou

    I can deal with cynicism if it’s rightful and attractive. This is neither. Shocking that this will be posted next to the talents of Danny Boyle

  • How about something for the word ‘unticketed”? :)

  • Love so much the cynical aspect of this post.

  • Yeah brill work from the man! Now that’s the way to brand the olympics! Now can we have a truck load of flyers dumped on the mayor’s door step!!

  • So tiring… I thought this anti-anti-anti-everything cynicism died a long time ago…

    and as for the “Royals capitalise on Olympics to enhance their image” couldn’t we change that to graphic designer releases font to capitalise on Olympics to enhance their image…

  • Capitalise? I think he is just taking a lot of time and effort to make his point, witch is admirable whatever his point is.

  • In the wake of the Olympic ticket lottery implosion last year, we made these. It may be construed as anti-everything, for some of us it’s a therapeutic way of processing the disappointment!


  • ed


    He’s going for that anti-marketing dollar. That’s a big dollar.

  • Jeremy

    Looks like there are lot of people much more cynical than Barnbrook around this place. Nothing as annoying as someone articulating something in a way which shows up how much we all spend our time actually saying very little of critical worth in our profession.

    The font is free and to Barnbrook’s credit he does appear to walk the talk in the choice of people he works for and what he is vocal in supporting, so he is pretty consistent in his viewpoints

  • Rob

    These are very lazy.

    Its so easy to be negative about the Olympics.

  • David

    @Lou I think Barnbrook did this in the restricted budget of ‘free’ rather than the 130 million that Danny Boyle got. Within the realms of font design its a pretty successful project which works on many levels. It critiques the design community’s role, worship of things like the Munich Olympic graphics, issues around pictogram design and highlights some very valid points…

    @Maak @Rob
    How can the cynicism die when there is so much to feel uncomfortable about? Just because you like the opening ceremony doesn’t mean this issues go away. There are so many other complicated issues surrounding the games, sponsorship, funding, access, local issues etc. You simply calling for people to shut up about them just makes you look uninformed rather than ‘positive’. Barnbrook has highlighted them in what seems a rather gentle ironic way, so for me it has exactly the right tone demanded of such a project.

  • Allison

    Can someone else point me in the direction of another designer who hasn’t just criticised the role of graphics in the Olympics but has actively done something about it? Because as far as i can see the response has been pathetic from the design community and Barnbrook seems to be unique in actually expressing something about it. The level of ‘discussion’ here seems to amount to ‘don’t say anything bad about the Olympics’. I

    Dont know why Barnbrook gets people’s goat so much, you may not like his opinions but in other respects he should be a national treasure. He seems really not afraid to say what he thinks and does it in a fantastically creative way. I am certain if this were another creative area he would be treated a lot more seriously about what he does and says and recognised for pulling out this profession from the torpor it usually exists in.

  • “The injunction to “stop moaning” or “whingeing”, projected across the media, should be roundly rejected, not least by genuine sports fans. The issues raised in and around the Olympics are not trivial: security in the context of the war on terror and the erosion of civil liberties; outsourcing and privatisation with their attendant unaccountability and exploitation of casual labour; the global ethics of giant corporations; the colonisation of the commons through the super-enforcement of intellectual property rights; the subordination of local needs to the imperatives of global capital. These are not peripheral questions that can or should be wished away – and the success or failure of British competitors, or even of “London 2012” as a one-off event, will have no bearing on any of them.

    Sport does offer a kind of escape, an alternative, exterior focus (like Shakespeare, a Twilight movie, or a game show). But it is not a vacation from critical thought. I find no difficulty thoroughly enjoying the best of the competition without compromising for a moment a necessarily critical perspective on what the Olympic enterprise has become.”


  • Dear Andy,
    the above work is really impressive. So many great ideas out there with a bit of sarcasm. I would like to see these things in real life, haha 😉

  • Simple, bold with a touch of humour! We Like!