The Olympic Games have been part of the fabric of world history over the past 100 years. Not only do all nations come together in unity to share in competitive games and good sportsmanship each four years in the summer and the winter, but a new logo for each host city is also born, adding to a century of graphic design tradition.
The Olympic rings, designed in 1912 by the founder of the modern Olympic Games, Baron Pierre de Coubertin, represents five regions of the world and colors from the flags of all nations. While the rings always serve as the key icon, each host nation takes pleasure in orchestrating the new “look” of the Games, and crafts the visual that works in conjunction with the rings. A combination of “time” and “place” has played a significant role in the overall visual identity of each individual Olympics.
Early on, designers focused on the literal, and the style of visual was handled in a detailed and illustrative way. This is evident in the ’36 Berlin and ’48 London Games, in which the visuals comprised iconic elements that were easily recognizable and widely associated with the host city. Even before Chevy Chase’s European Vacation, everyone in the world could recognize Big Ben and Parliament.
Later, design teams started converting the literal into bold, colorful, abstract, geometric shapes. This movement was known as Modernism. Form was simplified as a way to deviate from pictorial graphic solutions. Modernism is a staple in graphic design and is still widely practiced today. The Montreal ’72 Games is a good example of this. The traditional Olympic rings are combined with simple shapes creating the rough shape of an “M” and also implying an Olympic medals podium.
Designs of today seem to focus more on combining a Humanistic approach with cultural relevance. Designers are digging deeper, wanting to blend the perfect style to match the traditions and personality of the host nation.
One of the most interesting variations in recent years is from the Beijing 2008 Olympics. The “Chinese Seal, Dancing Beijing” is a solution that represents the cultural quality of the Chinese people. Pulling inspiration from the traditional Chinese art form calligraphy, the Chinese character “Jing” is developed into the form of a dancing (or running) person. Adding more meaning, the character “Jing” relates to the city’s name. The style is also evident in the words “Beijing 2008.”
Now that you have the background, below is a link to peek into all the logos defining the last 100 years of Olympics. Enjoy!