Design and the Olympics

Image from Flickr user PhasedIN

Last weekend the 2012 Olympics in London kicked off with a bang–quite literally. Following its Beijing precedent, the opening ceremony was a lavish production of lights, sounds, and scenes. While not as massive and intense as its precedent, the ceremony definitely had its own character and humor.

Image from Mirror News

I definitely appreciated in particular Queen Elizabeth’s unique introduction at the games that featured the actor Daniel Craig, in character as everyone’s favorite british secret agent, James Bond, escorting her to the games. That the queen actually permitted the footage to be filmed at the royal residence certainly shows a side of her that is rarely expressed to the public so openly.

Each of the Olympic games certainly has its own character, expressed through a number of methods, apart from the opening ceremony. Since the inception of the modern games, each host city has taken great strides to make its games memorable through subtle elements in its design as much as in its architecture and events.

The Olympic Torch and Cauldron

A key design from this year’s games that has been celebrated is the Olympic torch and Olympic cauldron. Both objects carry the flame that heralds the games and symbolize that the games are ongoing. This year the torch was designed by Barber Osgerby and the cauldron by Thomas Heatherwick.

Image via Dezeen

The torch this year was well-received and was a handsome piece of industrial design. the perforations on the aluminum alloy skin referred to the number of torch bearers that carried the flame to its final destination in the olympic stadium.

Hear the designers speak about their work in this video:

Olympics – Dezeen Interview

Another unique piece of design seen at the opening ceremonies this year was the olympic cauldron. The cauldron carries the olympic flame for the duration of the games.

Image via Dezeen

This year the cauldron’s design not only celebrated the games as a whole, but also the individual countries that are participating. Each of the individual basins that hold the flame were brought in with one of the participating countries. The design is symbolic collection of the spirits of the athletes at the games.

Image via Gizmodo

The designer talks about the cauldron:

The year-specific Olympic logo Since the first modern games in 1896, each of the games have had its own graphic representation of identity and of the era they were in. Earlier games’ character weren’t so much in the form of a logo, but were seen in the game programs and posters. Eventually the games each had its own logo besides the iconic five Olympic rings.

Logo images via ISO 50

This year’s logo was designed by Wolff Olins, an international Brand Consultancy firm that spawned several iconic identities such as that of the Tate museums in the UK. Since its launch in 2007, the logo has spawned a number of reactions from the public and from the design world as well.

Image from

The main feature of the logo is that the numbers 2012 are the main “container” for the type that spells out London and the olympic rings. the large numbers then change in color or can be filled with a different image depending on its application.

Most of the reception for the logo hasn’t been too positive, with New York Times design critic even describing the typeface used on it as “dodgy.” At its launch five years ago the designers said that logo was “ahead of its time,” and that “it would grow on us,” but many seem to disagree.

Personally I think that a country such as the UK, which has had a considerable role in the history of design, could have done significantly better, especially for an event of this scale. The logo seems haphazard and its symbolism and relationship to the games as an identity isn’t exactly clear.

However, if you consider it in the context of the current games and how some events were off to shaky starts, with multiple technical inquiries coming up in some events, as well as controversies such as the flag misnomer with North Korea in women’s Soccer, then perhaps the logo befits this years’ games. What do you think of this year’s Olympic games so far?

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