London 2012 Logo: Pro or Con?

We tune out the noise and examine the arguments for and against the London logo


The Shock of the New
Anything that is genuinely original is met with almost universal condemnation at the outset. This happens in art, in music and even in graphic design. Imagine what kind of logo the Daily Mail would approve of. The fact that there has been public outcry over the 2012 logo is not necessarily a bad thing. “Give the logo a chance,” says Lance Wyman who designed the Mexico 68 logo. “It has a recognisable, brash character and might offer an open book of application possibilities that will keep it fresh into 2012.” There’s five years for this to play out: wait and see.

The only thing worse than being talked about…
The primary task for the Olympics logo in this initial phase is to raise awareness of both itself and of the Games. In that respect, the London logo has been a complete success. Show the 2012 logo to anyone on the streets of the UK and they will recognise it immediately: how many logos can you say that about?

£400,000 for a logo?
Thanks Wolff Olins. Now, every time a design consultancy presents their client with a bill for less than £400,000 they can cite the Olympics and confidently stress to the client what a bargain they are getting.

It works because…
Bryan Bedell at US design studio Coudal Partners cited the following reasons to love the logo:

It’s not boring. The bright colours and distinctive design definitely DO stand out and it’s immediately recognisable. Everyone’s talking about it.

It’s different. It avoids all the go-to pratfalls of current logo design. No brushstrokes! No feathered drop shadows! No mirrored reflections! No gradients, patriotic colours, rainbows, ribbons, landmarks, symbols of unity, maps, swooshes or globes!

It’s reproducible. Aside from the word “London” going chunky when sloppily rendered for the web, it’s good to see a logo that’s so easily printable, broadcastable and mouldable.

It’s flexible. A variety of colour combinations, shapes, and patterns are available, keeping the logo slightly different on each view, but consistent. Also, keep in mind that an Olympic logo is almost always saddled with the logos of corporate partners. This will hold up.

It’s the basis for a graphic system. Events require a complicated system of signage, identification, ornamentation, and even architecture. This logo and its associated colours, shapes, type and patterns are the perfect starting point for some fantastic signage, icons, banners, tickets, uniforms and merchandise.

It’s timeless. We’ve read complaints that it’s reminiscent of 80s new wave design or 90s television titles. That it’ll look dated by 2012. That it’s too futuristic or modern. As far as we’re concerned, all design is influenced by other design. This design rises above its influences, yet remains simple enough to stand on its own. If current trends continue (towards four colour, “computery” 3D), this logo will be even more fresh in five years.

It’s English. The two names that come to mind when we hear “British design” are two of our favourite designers of all time: Neville Brody and Peter Saville. Without being a direct knock-off, the 2012 logo is evocative of their work, the punk and new wave movements, rave culture and everything we like about the UK.

It’s simple. When we hear “my kid could have done that!” we think “success”. Some of the greatest logos of all time involve two lines (the Christian cross) or three lines and a circle (Mercedes). Your kid COULD have done that, but she didn’t. Nor did she design the graphics standards manual that goes with it. So give it a rest. Or send us her CV.

It cost £400,000. That’s probably a bargain for an incredibly high-profile complete graphic identity system for an international company/event designed by experienced professionals. Anyone valuing the importance of design should give that argument a rest, too. We wouldn’t have taken the job for a shilling less.

It’s unexpected. More than anything, the London logo takes the Olympic logo to a new level of boldness, abstraction and simplicity. And we’re a bit jealous.


I want some of that: Every CEO is going to sit up and take notice of the enormous amount of free publicity generated by this row. They’ll all want a piece of this. Will we now see the wholesale rejection of safe identity schemes for major events (or even for corporations) in favour of deliberately provocative ideas designed principally to get on the front page of newspapers?

What you see is not what you get: The London logo demands a new way of looking at marques. The logo is not the logo, instead it is but one option in thousands. This thing is going to be sliced and diced, made and re-made over and over again. It’s going to act as a frame to be filled with images, some of which might feature Big Ben.

The new ugly: Could the London 2012 logo finally see the beginning of the end of designers’ love affair with Swiss Modernism?

Messy is good: The first instinct of most designers is to tidy up. This explains their enduring predilection for Modernism (as a style, divorced from its founding philosophy). Design for many is about imposing order. The London logo rejects order. It is deliberately dissonant. Have you seen the grid Wolff Olins designed for this thing? Will it reveal that the most powerful route toward communicating in a world that is characterised by a cacophony of competing messages is not to seek an oasis of calm but to be as noisy as everyone else?

The birth of the anti-logo: it’s ambiguous, it doesn’t rely on wit or visual puns, it’s inconsistent – in other words it has few of the qualities deemed necessary for success. For several years now, designers have toyed with the idea of flexible identity systems: London 2012 takes that notion to the extreme. If it works, we may have to tear up the rule book.



A “puerile mess” (© S Bayley)
It’s an inelegant, crude, misconceived and misguided attempt to be down with the kids that opens up the UK design industry to worldwide ridicule. This was the big chance to do something great, and they’ve blown it. OK, Wolff Olins should be applauded for sidestepping the Olympic clichés, but it’ll date quicker than a Hoxton haircut and there’s no getting past the fact that it’s just too damn ugly.

£400,000 for a logo?
Thanks Wolff Olins. The British public has now had its long-lingering belief that designers are nothing more than con artists in fancy glasses well and truly confirmed. If they didn’t have contempt for us before, they certainly do now. This has been a disaster for the industry.

It doesn’t work because…
People hate it: It’s all very well being talked about but not if all that talk is relentlessly critical. This is a public event, to be paid for using public money: shouldn’t the public at least be prepared to identify with its defining symbol?

It’ll date too quickly: The design appears to have been influenced by the dreaded Nu Rave, this year’s hot new look in fashion. Trouble is, this year’s hot new look is next year’s charity shop stock.

They won’t wear it: As well as being talked about, all the licensed merchandise manufacturers, whose cash the Olympics eagerly accepts, rely on the official logo being something that people might actually want to wear in large numbers. Like the Nike Swoosh. The overwhelmingly negative reaction to London’s logo suggests that the queues at the polo shirt stalls will be short.

It’s trying to do too much: Just read some of the guff that both Wolff Olins and LOCOG have come out with. From the latter: “The new 2012 emblem will use the Olympic spirit to inspire everyone and reach out to young people. It is an invitation to take part and be involved.” From Government minister Tessa Jowell: “This is an iconic brand that sums up what London 2012 is all about – inclusive, welcoming and diverse.” From WO: “Echoing London’s qualities of a modern, diverse and vibrant city, the London 2012 emblem is unconventionally bold, deliberately spirited and unexpectedly dissonant. The emblem’s form is inclusive. It can talk to anyone.” It’s just a logo. It can’t possibly do all the things that are being asked of it. Loading all this meaning and expectation onto a simple graphic device simply invites ridicule. Stop it. Now.

It’s painful: “The logo is an example of the sort of design you get when politicos and business people try to be hip. What we’ve ended up with is a logo commissioned by middle-class suburbanites who do ‘gardening in polo shirts’. In other words, it’s a laughable attempt at ‘cutting edge’ design.” Adrian Shaughnessy at Design Observer.

It’s ugly: Never mind all the other stuff, this is what designers find unforgivable about the 2012 logo. Otl Aicher’s masterful scheme for the 1972 games had been in everyone’s minds thanks to an exhibition staged by design studio Bibliothèque earlier this year (CR March) and a book on Aicher’s work from Phaidon. Everyone was hoping – praying – that London would live up to this legacy. A lot of the criticisms levelled at the London logo could also apply to the 72 logo. It too broke free of the clichés. The Munich logo didn’t symbolise the host city, it said nothing about sport. But it was beautiful, elegant and sublime. The London logo is none of these. Aicher showed that you can challenge convention and create beauty at the same time.



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