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Creative Review takes a looks back at the most successful design campaign for the Olympic games down the years

September 2013. Free with Creative review

8002 gnijieB Their unique system of icon-based signage became the model that influenced Lance Wyman for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, and the Otl Aicher for the 1972 Munich Olympics. A noteworthy event occurred in 1966 when Aicher met with Katzumie and collaborated on underlying design standards and a more streamlined pictogram design based on the

1964 Tokyo Olympic pictograms. The Olympic way finding efforts since Katzumie have also become landmarks in the advancement of design systems for major international events and universal public visual design systems.

‘Designer Min Wang is the creative force behind this extraordinary undertaking which began three years ago in a country that just 30 years ago had no word for graphic design.’


Beijing 2008

Welcome to a special feature of your issue of Creative Review. This free supplement is a guide to the creative side of the Olympics. As Tokyo has recently won the bid to host the Olympic Games in 2020, we take a look back at the last time this city hosted the Olympic Games in 1964 and the hugely successful design campaign, spearheaded by Yusaku Kamekura. We also take a look back at some of the most successful design campaigns for the Olympic Games down the years and insights into the design studios and creative directors of these games. Enjoy the issue.


Under the leadership of Min Wang, the centre’s design teams, including CAFA students, have developed an elegant and comprehensive design system for the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games. Their work includes the athletic pictographic symbols, the Beijing Games emblem and their applications. All of these efforts address design planning through the development of extensive design standards manuals for the Beijing 2008 Olympics, and reaffirm the Olympic spirit and significance of this international multi-sporting event.


Wang’s efforts, and those of his design teams at the Art Research Centre, follow in the tradition of Olympic pictogram designs developed by art director Masaru Katzumie, who invented the first system of pictograms for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Katzumie, working with his graphic design team, was concerned with the social importance of graphic design and focused his research efforts on an internationally standardised signage system.


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5 6 7 8

Tokyo 1964

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Mexico 1968

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Munich 1972

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Beijing 2008




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Designer: Yusaku Kamekura Tokyo 1964

The 1964 Olympics emblem (above) was designed by Yusaku Kamekura. Legend has it that Kamekura forgot when he had to submit his design and on the day of the deadline got a phone call. He dashed this out in less than two hours. Of course, that’s not to say that he just did it off the cuff — clearly he had been mulling over the concept for a long time in his head. The design has real impact and perhaps cannot be bettered for its striking minimalism.


Legend has it that Kamekura forgot when he had to submit his design and got a phone call on the day of the deadline. He dashed this out in less than two hours.

It was apparently picked unanimously from twenty (or, according to some, forty) other designs. The logo then became the first poster for the Games. The logo for Tokyo 1964 is iconic and was made in a universal style of design. Kamekura uses three elements; the red ‘rising sun’ of the Japanese flag, the Olympic rings and the words ‘Tokyo 1964’ set in gold Helvetica type.

Aicher sought advice from Masaru Katsumie, the designer charged with creating the concept of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Together they resolved fundamental organisational issues and Aicher’s team subsequently simplified the pictograms developed for the Tokyo Games which depicted typical movements for the various sports. Aicher’s application of colour for the Games, although primarily

an organising principle to divide the media, sports and technical departments, was easily identifiable and effective in communicating information. He extended the basic colour palate into his posters for sporting events but with subtle variations and blends to create complex, yet complimentary images. What resulted was a system in which the different sports and events could be recognised using the colours and symbols, therefore using as little wording as possible.


Munich 1972

sogoL Designer: Lance Wyman Mexico 68

“This curious balance between obligation and freedom, which is characterised in sport, has its affinity in the area of aesthetics, the choice of our colours is precisely defined, however, we believe we have discovered a whole world of combinations.” - Otl Aicher 13

Aicher successfully addressed the challenge of designing posters for a global event that needed to be understood in hundreds of different languages. Printed matter such as posters, brochures, tickets and letterhead were created from a core of set elements - such as colour, type and format - and worked as complimentary components of Aicher’s larger visual identity. The intent was to create a design so that all the visual applications

related; Aicher did not feel standardisation resulted in ‘uniformity’ but rather a more flexible and coherent system. “As a strictly designed grammar, the system allows free, playful application,” Aicher explained before the Munich Olympics in 1970. “This is comparable to ball games or chess, where fixed elements and an agreed set of rules allow playful freedom.”

Graphic design became an important visual ambassador for the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games, It was the first time the games were hosted by a Latin American nation. In planning for the games, Mexico, an emerging third world nation, could not afford to make an extensive architectural statement. The starting point was the mandatory five-ring logo that identifies the modern Olympic Games. It was the realisation that the geometry of the five rings could be expanded to

generate the number ’68’, the year of the games and with the addition of the word ‘Mexico’ the logotype was created (Above). Mexico 68 clearly identifies the country, the year and the event. The distinct geometric forms suggest early Mexican cultures and Mexican folkart, and the final design references 1960’s Op Art kinetic typography.

“In 1966 I went to Mexico City with Peter Murdoch to participate in a competition to design the graphics for the 1968 Mexico Olympic Games. It was the beginning of an adventure that has continued to influence my work and my life.” - Lance Wyman 2


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Designer: Otl Aicher Munich 1972

Otl originally designed a logo which he named the Strahlenkranz (a radiant garland that was variously seen as representative of the sun shining above the city, a flower, a star, as well as a symbol of a victor’s laurels). However, this symbol was rejected by the Olympic committee as the shape was too difficult to copyright because the design was too generic. After this, Vonn Mannstein merged a spiral form with the radiant garland, using a rather complicated


“It is simple in colour and style, but profound in meanings. It symbolizes a shining and bright Munich.” - Otl Aicher

mathematical calculation, to create a dynamic and unique symbol of the games. This logo is an outstanding work of modernism in mid 20th century. It is simple in colour and style, but profound in meanings. The alternate of black and white creates a strong visual comparison; the revolving treatment forms a round geometry with a central perspective, which is abstract in meaning.

The identity of the Mexico Olympic Games became so popular that even fashion garments were printed with the distinctive marks. The work that Wyman did was so successful that he used similar tactics in other work he created.

“A visual language was used in place of words to communicate effectively with the international participants of the Olympics. Icons identified services, literal silhouettes…identified seating accommodations and the competition areas for the athletes in the arenas.” - Lance Wyman


Mexico 1968

sogoL Designer: Min Wang Beijing 2008

Sign systems and street furniture were created to guide people around the city. The way in which some of the three dimensional elements were designed was also linked to artifacts found in Tula. Almost like a totem pole, elements of street furniture were stacked and pieced together like a jigsaw. A unique system of pictograms was devised to guide people to their seats in Olympic stadiums. The time was indicated


using an analogue clock face and the sporting event using the relevant pictogram. Symbols withing the arena’s environment matched up with symbols on the tickets, to create a visual language that made sense to people from all backgrounds. This system was so simple that even the illiterate would be able to understand its commands.

Wyman went to great lengths to ensure all his designs would not only be a great representation of Mexico, but would also be accessible to everyone, regardless of sex, age, race or education.

Min Wang was appointed design director for the 2008 Olympic Games in 2006. At that time, he created a unique working group in the Art Research Center for the Olympic Games (ARCOG) at CAFA. Under his leadership, the center’s design teams, including CAFA students, developed an elegant and comprehensive design system for the 2008 Olympic Games. The logo is a most unique one, because it creates strong oriental cultural atmosphere. Each part of the logo contains rich cultural meanings. The logo was inspired from traditional

“How can we create an Olympic look that combines the Olympic spirit and Chinese values? How can we create an Olympic look that blends the traditional with the contemporary?” - Min Yang

elements that only exist in China: the Chinese seal, Chinese character and Chinese calligraphy. They have strong cultural signals that carve the ancient eastern civilization. The red seal catch you eye at the first sight; the hollow stroke in the middle is a style of Chinese calligraphy which shapes the character that symbolizes Beijing; most importantly, the character seems like a dancing person that makes the whole logo dynamic. The Beijing Olympic logo succeeds in using cultural elements to demonstrate the attitude and personality of whole country.


Pictograms 5

a method of communication designed to be “independent of language and culture.” The Tokyo pictograms were regarded as groundbreaking, and every Summer Olympics since has featured its own unique set of pictograms. The Tokyo pictograms were one of 28 pictogram families from around the world selected for study by the United States Department of Transportation as part of an effort to create a system of unified transportation pictograms.

The pictograms used at the Tokyo Games are part of a historical continuum but also represent a shift in modern visual communication, both in the design of the pictograms and the reasons for their use.

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The first Olympic Games to be held in Asia premiered on October 10, 1964, in Tokyo, Japan. The Tokyo Games were rife with symbolism: The Olympic torch was lit by Yoshinori Sakai, who was born in Hiroshima the day the city was destroyed by the atomic bomb, and the Games were regarded as Japan’s announcement of its successful reconstruction following World War II. But the symbolism was also literal: To communicate with Olympic visitors who didn’t speak Japanese, the Tokyo Games invented a set of pictograms,

The signs at the venues as well as the tickets and programs all made use of the pictograms for a design that was not only attractive but also intuitive, one that everyone could understand.

‘Just before the start of the Games there were lots of items produced to help overseas visitors navigate Tokyo, from posters to maps and guidebooks.’ 10

Tokyo 1964

of the first poster using the same technique, so he took a different tack and used photography. Saying that, this snapshot was not easy. To get the image where each runner’s face could be seen took multiple sprints, and the poster’s image was finally chosen from 100 shots.


This is the second poster (Left) and is likely the most famous visual image of the Tokyo Olympics. As with the logo, the design is by Yusaku Kamekura. He understood that he would not be able to outstrip the design

It is arguable that the set of Mexico 68 Olympic pictograms are one of the best there has ever been. Created by Lance Wyman along with Manuel Villazón and Matthias Goeritz, these pictograms were much more than great pieces of information design.

Around twenty years after the end of the war, the event marked Japan’s full reconstruction and entry onto the global stage again, and in this sense it was a landmark event for Japan and the Japanese. Ahead of the Games, infrastructure was pushed forward


not only for Tokyo but around the nation, and led to a massive demand in new color television sets. It also brought a big economic boost — one of the sources of Japan’s

prosperity today can be traced back to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. And for such a huge national event, needless to say the design side of things was very important too and it engaged the talents of the industry heavyweights at the time.

The parallel line typeface based on the letter forms of the logotype was used for official inscriptions on coins and medals, for titles in Olympic publications, and to identify each of the sport venues by name on site signs and entry tickets. Written messages in the parallel line typeface were easily recognized as part of the Olympic program. In designing

our icons we were lucky to have the icon systems designed four years earlier under the direction of Katzumi Masaru for the Tokyo Olympics as a guiding light. A major difference between Katzumi`s icons and ours is that the Tokyo sport icons were bold stick figures that incorporated the entire human figure. Our sport

icons focused on an expressive detail, a part of the athlete`s body or a piece of equipment, creating images similar to glyphs found in Mexican preHispanic cultures. We relied heavily on the sport icons as communicators that could cross cultural and language barriers.


Pictograms 7

The pictograms designed for the Munich Olympic games were modeled on the pictograms for Tokyo. The pictograms derived from typical postures in each sport. In contrast, to Tokyo, however, the symbols were designed using a set of standardized graphic elements arranged on a grid. This advanced level of syntactic order guaranteed a unity to assist the viewer in comprehending the content, and it enabled the pictograms to become part of a larger aesthetic pattern. They were used extensively not only in the information sign-age placed

throughout Munich but also on the numerous publications, such as sport event brochure, site maps, tickets, and daily event brochures, among others. This original set of twentyone sport pictograms (including services) for the Olympics grew in the following years into an extensive collection of symbols used mainly in airports, public buildings, and for large scale events. Grid systems and detailed typographic specifications were worked out to take into account every visual communication need for the Munich Games.


For the Munich Olympics, the various visual elements were applied with a strict methodology of contrast, order, quality, and pattern to create unity.

Named ‘the beauty of seal characters’ and with strokes of seal characters as their basic form, the pictograms of the Beijing 2008 Olympic games integrate pictographic charm of inscriptions on bones and bronze objects in ancient china with simplified embodiment of modern graphics making them recognisable, memorable and easy to use.

Olympic games display distinct motion character, graceful aesthetic perception of movement and rich cultural connotations, thus arriving at the harmony and unity of form with conception. “We had to walk the line between East and West in the design process,” - Min Wang

‘The images are a distinct form of traditional Chinese art, revealing the concept of gangrou bingji, or coupling hardness and softness design.’

Skilfully using the effect of sharp contrast between the black and white colours which the typical Chinese traditional artistic form of rubbings have, the pictograms of the Beijing


The Creative Olympics  

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