An oral history of… the London 2012 Olympics branding

As the Tokyo Olympics approaches, we look back at one of the more controversial Olympic identities, Wolff Olins’ London 2012 branding, which prompted a storm of press and public opinion. CEO Sairah Ashman and chairman Brian Boylan remember the project

On a fateful day in 2007, on the stage of London’s Roundhouse, the London Olympics 2012 logo was unveiled to the press, and a media storm ensued. Wolff Olins chairman Brian Boylan – who was a key figure on the creative team – caught the dark mutterings of a journalist sat next to him, who he remembers commenting, “the typography’s not bad but the logo’s fucking awful”.

Reactions to the logo were mixed, to say the least – with the tabloid and broadsheet press hounding Boylan and executive creative director Patrick Cox – and it was only further down the line, as the public saw the branding in its totality, that there was more understanding of what Wolff Olins was trying to achieve.

Looking back at the 2012 branding now, it’s hard not to feel a sense of fondness for its oddball, ‘dissonant’ aesthetic, as well as the hope it stood for in the simpler times of pre-Brexit UK. CR spoke with CEO Sairah Ashman alongside Boylan, to discuss their memories of the project – from the initial bid and the thinking behind the identity, to the ensuing controversy and beyond.

AN OLYMPICS FOR EVERYONE

Sairah Ashman: It was a two-part brief, and the thing that made it different from most briefs that come in from the Olympics was that it was very much around brand, rather than logo. It was a two-part exercise looking at the positioning, and then the visual expression. It didn’t come in as an Olympic ‘everyone’s invited, let’s do a logo – make sure you include the rings and something emblematic of the nation’. It started from a premise of what felt like a good, well-written, thought-through brief of let’s work from the positioning outwards.

JUNIOR GRAPHIC DESIGNER

Milton Keynes