The perils of global design

01.03.11

2012, or Zion? The perils and pitfalls of global design are brought into sharp focus by the latest controversy surrounding the London Olympics logo.

2012, or Zion?

The 2012 Olympics logo has come in for some stick since its unveiling in 2007, and no doubt the Olympics Delivery Authority and identity designers Wolff Olins have been relieved that with its increasing omnipresence and subsequent familiarity, the controversy has now finally begun to die down as the public begin to accept (if not love) it and move on with their lives.

So it might come as something of a surprise that this week Iran have somewhat belatedly thrown fuel on the ashes by threatening to boycott the Games if the logo stays in place. The nature of their complaint is, rather than the hitherto aesthetically-based criticisms, that they perceive it can be read as ‘Zion‘, and thus is a veiled pro-Israel statement:

“As internet documents have proved, using the word Zion in the logo of the 2012 Olympic Games is a disgracing action and against the Olympics’ valuable mottos.

“There is no doubt that negligence of the issue from your side may affect the presence of some countries in the Games, especially Iran which abides by commitment to the values and principles.”

Iranian Students News Agency

Ah, what a minefield design can be. This issue of misinterpretation can rear its ugly head even amongst a small group of like-minded people from similar backgrounds – and while differences of opinion in these situations tend to be minor, as design crosses international boundaries and is seen by people of all different cultural, social, political, ethnic and religious backgrounds, the potential for problems can multiply rapidly.

Even something as simple as colour can have a thousand different interpretations, so it should perhaps be no surprise that as a somewhat ambiguous mark like the London 2012 logo crosses boundaries, there’s scope for misinterpretation – and unfortunately enough in this case misinterpretation in a very complex and sensitive area.

Ironically, there’s an argument to say that much of what got so many people’s backs up about the logo from a design perspective – over-complication, involution and illegibility – is also the root cause of Iran’s ‘Zion’ issue. Would a simpler design have sidestepped this particular minefield? Perhaps.

In any case, it certainly brings the dangers of global design into sharp focus. As Victor Papanek said, “The only important thing about design is how it relates to people.” The problem with designing for the whole world is that there’s so very many people to relate to.