Revisiting the London 2012 identity


The London 2012 identity caused quite a stir when it was launched in 2007. How does it fare now? Has time been kind?

A Russian beer fixture: your beer pack design doesn’t operate in isolation – context is key!

One of the challenges of design research lies in achieving context. Context is key in design research, because consumers don’t respond to design in isolation. It’s for that reason that in all our projects, we simulate the context in which consumers are exposed to design. So on a packaging project, that means seeing the new pack in the context of its competitors, or on an identity project, it means seeing it across multiple touchpoints, such as bus shelters, magazine adverts and the web.

What’s more difficult to simulate in research, however, is the effect of time. How often has someone proposed an idea to you that seemed crazy at first, only for it to begin to make more and more sense as time passes? That’s why we say “sleep on it”, or “mull it over” – because the passing of time can make things which initially seemed difficult, complicated or shocking start to unfold and become clearer. As they benefit from having the time to bed into our consciousness, we begin to see past our initial response and see things in a little more depth.

This is especially true of design. Time gives design more exposure; so consumers get more used to seeing the design in all its different contexts, and become more attuned to it. Though this process normally takes weeks, months or even years, sometimes we’ll see the effect over the course of a two hour discussion group, as a design that seemed shocking at first starts to grow on respondents who start to see its finer points.

Designs can take time to ripen

This is often the case for designs which are ahead of their time. They can be shocking when first unveiled, as they’ve been designed with the consumer of five years hence in mind – not the consumer of today. (We’ve talked about the research challenge this presents in a previous post). In this way, such designs are not ‘ready’ when launched, and take time to mature and ripen.

BMW 3 series’ new look in 2006 – a design which has improved with time

One example of this phenomenon is the BMW 3 series. When its new look (launched in 2006) was unveiled, the initial response from BMW fans was – by and large – not positive. All those sharp edges, those pinched taillights… it all seemed a radical (and unnecessary) departure from the smooth curves of its much-admired predecessor. But over time, the design has been accepted, embraced and even loved by the brand’s faithful.

Time hasn’t been kind to Gap’s aborted logo (not yet, anyway)

It works the other way as well, of course. Sometimes a design is shocking when it comes out not because it’s ahead of its time, but because it’s simply bad. Arguably the aborted Gap logo is an example of this. It’s had over a year, and most would agree they did the right thing by doing a U-turn on that one.

Which all brings us to the identity for the London 2012 Olympics. When it was unveiled in 2007, Wolff Olins’ creation was met with a collective gasp. Though it had its proponents, the majority of people on the street either disliked or actively loathed it.

At the time (indeed back on our old website), we canvassed a few opinions. But this was five years before the Games – the event for which the identity was designed. By its nature, it’s a design with a ‘best before’ date.

So, as we arrive into the year of the Games, we thought it was an apt time to revisit the identity. Has time healed the wounds? Has exposure to it across touchpoints clarified its rationale? Has it ripened, or was it just delivered after its ‘best before’ date in the first place?

John Cassidy, The Big Picture

In 2007:

I was pretty surprised when I first saw the logo – shocked even. Usually some sort of symbolism stands out referencing the spirit of the games and/or the location – but I struggled with this one. Having said that, it started to grow on me almost immediately. Why shouldn’t we do something a bit different? I appreciate that there may be a lot of people up in arms about it at the moment but that’s par for the course when introducing something so radical. I guess the true measure of its success will be whether it meets the brief and stands the test of time – rather than necessarily winning any short term, knee-jerk popularity vote.


Well the logo itself hasn’t grown on me – though because of its exposure, I’ve come to accept it rather than embrace it. What I’m more disappointed about is that it’s been five years, and sadly I’m still waiting to get the feeling that the identity as a whole has really come to life (especially disappointing given I work in central London, am attuned to design because of my job, and have even bought Olympics tickets so get their regular mailings).

I’m still optimistic. I’m hoping they’ve been keeping their powder dry over the last four years, holding back, and that now that 2012 has arrived they’ll really go for it and we’ll see the full glory of it. Here’s hoping!…

Dave Annetts, Creative Director (London Studio), Design Bridge

I was in the minority who liked it from the start but it was always my strong belief that it would grow on people – like an arranged marriage. By September we’ll all love it!

Initially I saw it as distinctive and original and not a Big Ben or similar cliché. It was designed to be used in many different ways and now in 2012 we’ll really start to see this. A good example of an identity being far more than ‘the logo’.

Mike Tivnen, The Big Picture

In 2007:

The problem is that most people seem to be judging it as a logo, rather than what it was designed to be: a brand identity programme capable of global multimedia application.

Sebastian Coe said the organisers didn’t want a corporate logo that everyone would be wearing on their polo shirt down the golf club. They wanted something that new (young, urban) audiences could engage with. I think that’s what they’ve got. I like it. And I think increasingly over the next 5 years most people will come to like it or at least to have positive views of the Olympics formed by it.


Looking back I’m not sure I would have said much different with the benefit of hindsight, though I have to say that, at one level, I’m disappointed.

We were promised that the logo would be developed in terms of its animated application and I’ve not really seen much of that so far. I’ve seen the way the logo is applied in print, on-screen, in signage on-site, on merchandise etc. and I don’t think it’s proven to be as exciting or as innovative as I’d hoped it would be. In fact in one respect, it’s been very disappointing – I hadn’t appreciated at the time how all-pervasive and irritating the rather bizarre text font would be. Not only is it tiring to read in large blocks, but it lends an air of jokey childishness to what sometimes is quite serious, adult-adult communication.

Having said all this, my impression is that people have come to accept – even warm to – the logo, and that it’s probably engaged successfully with the younger urban market that it was supposed to appeal to. It’s highly distinctive, and when seen in the context of otherwise quite serious communication – for example as an endorsement on corporate sponsors’ advertising – I feel it manages to lend an air of youth, excitement and optimism.

Ben Scales, Davies + McKerr

In 2007:

I certainly agree that this logo shouldn’t be judged in print form alone. As a 2012 spokesperson said, ‘The emblem needs to work across new platforms to reach young people’. The logo certainly does have more merit when employed as an animation rather than a static visual. However, stylistically I’m just not convinced that it will work with young people. To me, it feels like an older person’s attempt to communicate to ‘the kids’. After all, graffiti is still an underground and subversive activity and it is notoriously difficult style for a mainstream corporate organisation to adopt without seeming a little insincere. And unfortunately, what makes it worse it that the 2012 logo looks dated. It’s a 1982, breakdance interpretation of graffiti – which could be incredibly cool and retro in some circumstances but in the context of the Olympics just comes across as old-fashioned and naive. But I’m very far from being young and am more than prepared to be told I’m talking rubbish by a genuine young person!


How do I judge the 2012 logo now I’ve had 4 years to live with it? Like my view of Boris Johnson, I’ve grown accustomed to it but I still don’t think it has much aesthetic appeal or grace. I do applaud the London Games for trying to do something a little different, and I certainly think that the 2012 logo has impact and presence although for me, the blocky graffiti style looks basic and lacks a sense of authenticity. I also still question the fit between the Olympics and graffiti street culture… whilst their motives may be worthy (perhaps they’re looking to suggest that the Games are in touch with the young people of London?) it was always going to hard for a large, formal organisation to adopt an aesthetic street style such as this and deliver it in a way that feels credible and believable. Maybe the Games should have been more open about the brief for the logo? Rather than say ‘don’t judge it as a static graphic, judge it as an animation’ – which tends to close down dialogue on what it’s all about – perhaps they could have told people what the brief was and what the challenges were. After all, to really assess whether this idea works we need to move beyond pure appeal and judge it on whether it delivers the creative proposition for the intended audience… whoever that might be.


Opinions of the logo don’t seem to have improved very much, and exposure to the identity as a whole has yielded mixed results. Some designs mature with time, like a fine wine – but the London 2012 Olympics identity doesn’t appear to be one of them.

Perhaps it’s still too early to judge; the Games are still six months away and perhaps seeing it in the context of the event itself will clarify the creative vision for the brand. (Is there an Olympic award for optimism?)

What do you think? How has living with the identity over the last few years affected your view? Add your comment below.