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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