The Voice of Professional Design

Posted Thursday, 4 August 2011

A cautionary tale of two logos.

By David Mellonie, for the Design Institute of Australia

A cautionary tale of two logos.

London and Rio Olympic logos stir up controversy.

Designing logos is a famously difficult and thankless task.

The problem with designing something destined to have a high public profile is that everyone is certain to have an opinion about it, particularly if the logo represents something that people feel a connection to.

These days that includes everything from tree frogs to Twisties, thanks to a world where blogging, Facebook and Twitter provide forums for a legion of instant experts, curiously unrestrained by lack of knowledge and literacy.

Add to that the telephone number price tags charged by some designers for their work, and logos are inevitably transported into the stratospheric world of Jackson Pollock, with detractors claiming now, as then, that monkeys and children could have done work of equal calibre.

That’s almost never true of course, but public perception remains steadfastly otherwise.

The logo for the 2012 London Olympics certainly doesn’t help the cause.

Unveiled in 2007 to widespread public dismay and derision (a BBC survey in that year indicated a disapproval rating of almost 80%), the London Olympics logo was intended to represent a ‘hip’ new style inspired by graffiti artists, aimed at the ‘Internet generation’ and loosely based on the numbers 20 and 12.

If you squint hard you might just be able to see them, but most Londoners can only see red.

An animated version of the logo had to be withdrawn from the Olympic website because of the danger of causing epileptic fits (epilepsy plus apoplexy, some might claim), while the so-called ‘Internet generation’ target market rapidly went viral when it was pointed out that the logo also looked remarkably like Lisa Simpson ‘entertaining’ someone.

Not to be outdone, the Iranian Olympic Committee claimed that the logo was evidence of a Jewish plot and threatened to boycott the London Olympics, announcing that the 2012 letters actually spelt the word Zion.

Now Londoners have just had possible insult added to injury by the release of two London Olympic ‘mascots’ called Wenlock and Mandeville, designed at further great expense and once again, meant to attract a younger, ‘cooler’ audience to the Olympics.

The creative mythology goes that the two, one-eyed, shiny new mascots were created from the last drops of steel left over from the final support girder of the Olympic stadium in Stratford, East London.

In keeping with modern communication mediums, the mascots are the subjects of an animated film story and have their own website, Twitter and Facebook pages.

Stephen Bayley, founder of the London-based Design Museum, said that his daughter – presumably one of the desired target demographic – had described the new mascots perfectly when she referred to them as 'rubbish earrings'.

'The logo was hideous enough but now we have these ridiculous, infantile mascots,’ he said.

‘They are atrocious.'

Although the London Olympics are yet to arrive, organisers for the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics have released the logo for their city’s hosting of the Games, and appear to have fared much better in the public popularity stakes.

The final logo design was chosen from 138 other competitors, and ‘breaks new ground’ with a blend of ‘volume and form, light and shade’.

The colourful, ‘tri-dimensional’ logo has a front and a back and can be viewed from many angles.

The designers claim that it is based on four pillars: ‘contagious energy, harmonious diversity, exuberant nature and Olympic spirit’, and contains the colours found on the Brazilian flag.

A newspaper poll reported that over 70% of Brazilians surveyed liked the new logo – almost the exact opposite of the poor Londoners.

But approval was not universal, with some critics muttering that the Brazilian logo was uncomfortably reminiscent of the Colorado Telluride Foundation’s logo (see image gallery), and Henri Matisse’s 1910 painting ‘The Dance’.

The design agency responsible for the logo rejected that assertion, admitting some ‘similarity’ to the Telluride logo but claiming that they had done ‘extensive research’ to ensure that their design was unique.

‘For some reason, we missed that one,’ said the creative director of the agency, referring to the Telluride Foundation logo.

But, surprise surprise, the Telluride logo happens to bear a remarkable similarity to that of an earlier logo for the 2004 Brazilian Carnaval...

Maybe logos, like chickens, finally return home to roost.

(Images courtesy of and 2011 Succession H. Matisse, Paris / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York).

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