London 2012 Olympics: The look

From airport to venue, visitors to London 2012 will find one consistent look for the Games. LOCOG’s marketing director tells Patrick Burgoyne how it was achieved

In late June, a series of colourful banners appeared overnight on the street round the corner from where I live in London. Each bore a different Olympics-related message set in Gareth Hague’s unmistakable 2012 typeface sitting on a background of intersecting lines. A week or so later, temporary signs pointing the way to Olympic venues began appearing on the Tube. Soon after that, Oxford Street exchanged its jubilee bunting for triangular Olympic banners along its length. The Games had arrived.

That all these elements, plus others up and down the country, were recognisably part of the same project is a result of a concerted effort by the Games’ organisers LOCOG to bring all the many interested parties together to create one ‘look’ for 2012. This effort has been led by Greg Nugent, director of marketing, brand and culture for the Games. He has invited me into LOCOG’s Canary Wharf offices to talk me through the project.

Up on the 23rd floor, the reception area has a commanding view of the Olympic Park taking shape a mile or so away. Some LOCOG workers are already wearing their Adidas-supplied Games uniforms. Receptionists sit in front of two massive 2012 logos. In a glass-walled meeting room, everyone bursts into a round of applause. If you have watched the BBC’s 2012 sitcom, all this may sound familiar.

Nugent and I talk in the Seoul meeting room (each one is named after a previous Olympic host city), which is littered with 2012 visualisations. A ‘walk through’ graphic of the anticipated visitor journey to an Olympic venue spans one wall.

Nugent joined LOCOG in 2009 after overseeing the St Pancras terminal project as marketing director for Eurostar. Creating the look for 2012 was one of his first briefs in the job. “The Olympic Games is a fantastic design opportunity because when an organising committee starts [an OCOG in Olympic parlance] it doesn’t have a design history, it doesn’t come with an accepted design architecture. It has to build one,” he explains.

The main visual element in place when Nugent started was the highly controversial, widely reviled logo family created by Wolff Olins. “I was at the logo launch and I’ve always loved it,” Nugent insists loyally. “But doing a look and doing a logo are two different challenges. All we really had was the logo.”

One look for all

In this, Nugent and Wolff Olins appear to differ somewhat. Wolff Olins has always insisted that what it created for LOCOG was not just a logo but an entire brand with, by inference, the elements in place to apply that brand to the look of the games. Nugent, however, says they were a “long, long way” from being in a position to create the look of the games when he started.

“What Wolff Olins did was help create a really strong asset, but we had to take that on a step,” he says. “Futurebrand have been our big partners on this. They came in in 2009 and their ambition was to take this beyond the traditional look of the Games. One of the weaknesses in the Olympic system is that if you look back through its history, the host city ends up with one look, the government has another look, all the individual boroughs all have their own design pieces. The question we had to ask was are we going to do something that links you from the airport all the way to the venue and back again, or are we going to put the spectators through a disjointed journey visually?”

In order to do the former and create one coherent look for everything Games-related, from the airport to the venue, LOCOG would have to somehow persuade all the myriad organisations with an interest in ‘doing their bit’ for the Games to work together. In the summer of 2009 Nugent, with help from the GLA head of marketing Dan Ritterband and Tate’s Nicholas Serota, began the task. By early 2010 they managed to get 70 representatives of interested parties, from sponsors to the London boroughs and those towns and cities on the Torch Relay route, to the 2012 Festival, the Paralympics, venue architects, the companies doing the scaffolding for the temporary venues and even gardeners from the Royal Parks together in one room. At this three-day workshop, Nugent, with the help of Futurebrand, sold in the idea of One Look.

“I said ‘we have two choices, we can either all go out and do our own thing or we can do something that links the whole thing together,” Nugent says. He showed examples from previous Games “like Vancouver which had a fantastic look in the venues, but the venue look had nothing to do with the city look and the city look had nothing to do with the airport look. I thought we should be approaching this as one.”

After some initial resistance, by the end of the three days Nugent says he had general agreement on how this might be achieved. Futurebrand were now given the task of “working out what this thing looked like”.

Nugent says that the starting point was “the angularity of the logo and the way that is constructed” which, to be fair to Wolff Olins, was also part of their original idea for developing a 2012 visual language. “The Games stops the world and makes everyone look at one place. It only happens with the Olympics,” Nugent says. “We played with the idea of everyone looking into one place, of the Olympic Stadium being the epicentre of a burst of energy that everyone is focused in on.” Nugent shows me a graphic with the 2012 logo at the centre of the stadium, a multitude of lines extruded from its form creating shard-like patterns on the seating of the stadium.

Munich and Mexico

In a sentence which might make some purists splutter into their tea, Nugent claims that the Mexico 68 and Munich 72 Games were LOCOG’s inspiration. “Mexico had a stronger visual identity in the sense of a recognisable asset, but Munich had a formidable approach to design full-stop,” he says. “Even the IOC would say that they are the pinnacle in design terms but we had to try to bring this into a digital age, to bring this into a 3D age and pioneer a completely consistent and coherent look all the way through.”

Having the basics in place by early 2010 meant that there was still time to incorporate the look of the Games into the architecture of the temporary venues. As well as the stadium’s seating, its triangular floodlights also echo this look, as do the seats of the hockey stadium and the temporary parts of the Aquatic Centre.

The next day, we meet, together with head of look and feel Richard Hill and brand manager Maria Ramos, for a tour of the Olympic Park. As we enter via the Westfield shopping centre, following the same route as 75% of visitors will take, the first thing we see is a vivid example of how far the ‘shard’ look has inculcated every aspect. The Stratford Gate is an enormous, angular, magenta gateway created by Surface Architects. The same studio was responsible for the series of 15 metre tall magenta wayfaring beacons with directions to the venues and exits as well as estimated walking distances between points on the site: magenta was chosen as the colour for all wayfaring as it is one of the few colours not already used on the Tube and LOCOG wanted to ensure consistency for all Olympics-related signage, whether on-site or in the city. In a further bid for consistency, all the 2012 signage, wherever it may be, uses TFL’s New Johnston typeface. So a sign in, say, the Aquatics Centre on the Olympic Park is consistent with one on the Jubilee Line.

Dressing up

Each venue on the Park has its own colour: as spectators near their venue, the colours of the banners lining the communal areas will change to guide them in. Once inside, the look uses this same palette. The design team (around 20 people at Futurebrand plus another 40 in-house at LOCOG) spoke extensively to photographers and broadcasters to ensure that the venue graphics work with their key shots. They were also able to tell the designers where best to place London 2012 branding so that it appears in as many images as possible.

The attention to detail is hugely impressive, as is the way the look has been applied throughout the city and country – from the giant Olympic Rings cut into the grass in Richmond Park, to the route of the Torch Relay. There are plans to light London’s bridges in Olympic colours. Giant sets of rings greet passengers passing through Heathrow Terminal 5. The UK has been well and truly Olympified.

“There are no briefs like this,” Nugent says. “Nothing prepares you for the scale of this thing …The IOC describe it as the most complicated branding exercise the world over and I think we’ve made it even bigger and infinitely more complicated than it’s ever been before. But, as someone said at the Sydney Games, you don’t put on the greatest show on earth without getting dressed up.”

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