Montreal 76 Olympics: The system

Georges Huel’s symbol for the Montreal 76 Games, which used the Olympic rings to subtly evoke both the medal winners’ podium and the stadium track, is up there with the very best in Olympic identity design

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It was the stylised ‘M’ positioned above the rings which gave Huel the most satisfaction, he told Pamela Ferguson in Design magazine in January 1975, being a simple construction that the designers of the two previous Games in Mexico (1968) and Munich (1972) fortunately hadn’t picked up on.

The extensive Graphics Manual produced for the Montreal Games in 1972 by Huel (formerly the art director of a printing firm in the city), his deputy Pierre-Yves Pelletier and the graphic designer Raymond Bellemare, explained the formation of the symbol. Overall it “illustrates the human element stressed by Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the Modern Olympics”, while the use of the podium “indicates the crowning glory for the winners”. At the heart of the symbol, the text continued, “the simplicity and the dignity of the Olympic stadium’s track imply man’s faith in an ideal”.

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Preceded by a smaller Basic Logo Standards booklet, the majority of the 50-page Graphics Manual was dedicated to the technical aspects of the symbol’s usage, denoting things such as the minimum distance required between it and all neighbouring graphic elements, and the correct way to achieve a symmetrical pattern with repeated symbols. Only a single two-colour version of the symbol was permitted – Canadian flag red on black – and Huel’s exacting instructions also included a list of “unacceptable uses” of the design: it should not be filled with solid colour and additional graphic elements should not be used alongside.

A grid for accurate enlargements of the logo (for use when it was not possible to do so photographically) was also produced, alongside various grids for other printed material, and detailed rules for the application of type and photography over a range of different Olympic documents. The Manual also outlined that the Montreal logotype was to be set in Univers 55 or Univers 75 – a continuation from Otl Aicher’s use of the typeface at the Munich 72 Games. Pelletier apparently persuaded Huel away from his first choice of Helvetica, Ferguson revealed in her article.

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However, Huel’s tight control of the graphics programme didn’t run to overseeing the look of all the Montreal 76 material, most notably the commissioned coins and stamps. Different artists and designers were brought in to work on these aspects, writes Ferguson, with Huel none too pleased about some of the resulting work. But when looked at as a whole, the range of brightly coloured posters and the clean minimalism of the beaver mascot Amik, coupled with the brilliant simplicity of Huel’s symbol, mark Montreal 76 out as sporting one of the most well designed, if not most well known, Olympic visual identities.

Photography by Antonio Carusone, antoniocarusone.com. His images of the Graphics Manual and the Basic Logo Standards can be seen via aisleone.net

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