Why the Beijing 2022 Olympic Logo might be Awful

Why the Beijing 2022 Olympic Logo might be Awful

Previous Winter Olympic logos. Sarajevo is my fave!

To create an Olympic logo is surely a designers dream job? One to be approached with both excitement and maybe a dash of fear!

As a piece of design, it’ll be seen by hundreds of millions of people all across the globe, any designer would relish such visibility for their work, perhaps not solely for the publicity, but the goal of a designer must be to simply have her work seen.

The design has to be right then, it has to capture both the hallowed “spirit of the games” as well as represent the host nation. It also needs a timeless quality, something to be reproduced in years to come in advertising, history books and on enthusiastic blog posts. They don’t have the time to develop into classic brands before they are in use, usually, they’re released a couple years before the event to start the process of “selling stuff”, which if we’re honest, is the job of any Olympic city logo. They do after all have an existing “design classic” in the form of the Olympic rings. It’s only after the fact that an Olympic city logo can become a classic, the most famous of which I guess are Mexico 68 and Munich 72, the less we say about Barcelona 92 the better.

Soliciting a Logo

In 2022 Beijing is to host the Winter Olympics, which despite being a big gig, is still stuck as the lesser sibling of the summer event. The job spec remains the same, except it’s allowable to sneak in some frosty references to the winter aspect of the events.

The organising panel of the 2022 Beijing event has decided to open up the creation of the logo beyond appointing a designer or agency and allow anyone, ANYONE IN THE WORLD! Anyone can submit a design.

Readers of this blog may know how much I detest logo competitions. It’s not that I don’t ‘get’ why entities choose to go down this route because I do. In the Olympic case, things are especially raw currently after the debacle of the Tokyo 2020 summer games logo (TL:DR created design looked a bit like a logo of a Belgian theatre, was scrapped, a competition was held within Japan to make a new one).

The "Candidate City" logo Beijing used to promote their application for the games.

The “Candidate City” logo Beijing used to promote their application for the games.

I understand that by opening the design up to a wider audience, the body looking for a logo sees that many creative minds working on a solution will, through sheer quantity, create a suitable design that ticks all of their boxes.

I understand that opening the process up to the public gives it a sheen of engagement, in this case, the idea the “the whole world” has participated chimes hand in hand with the global nature of the event and the spirit of the competition.

I understand that it feels like a risk to appoint an agency, designer or artist to do the job as should the end result not be well received, critics will look beyond the designer to appoint blame and towards the organisers of the event.

I understand that should certain voices not like the design (and inevitably not everyone will) that a defence of “this was designed by the people for the people, how dare you criticise!” is a very strong one.

But the central question really needs to be; does this process guarantee the best result? I’ve repeatedly argued on this blog that it does not.

Do public competitions make for better logos?

When you run a competition like this, the buck still stops somewhere, even if the blame can be palmed off. In this case, I assume the buck stops with a subcommittee of the organisational committee. It might be syphoned off elsewhere, but at some point, someone either has to say “this is the design we’ve chosen” or “here are the shortlist of designs” before opening another layer of public participation with a vote.

My fear is that in contrast to their aims of this kind of ‘solicitation”;

 The Solicitation will encourage the sport-themed and culture-based design proposals created by fully utilising the rich Chinese cultural and artistic resources, and engage people from all walks of life in the preparation of the Games through this emblem solicitation, so as to ensure the perfect combination of national, artistic and innovative features of the emblems for both the Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Winter Games. (source)

they’ll end up with something that is far from perfect.

Trust me I’m a Professional

Should a professional firm or designer be involved, ultimately despite the organisers need to give the go-ahead, the agency head or designer puts themselves in the “champion” of the proposed design. It’s their responsibility to argue why the final solution should be chosen, to defend their research and creative process and when it comes down to it, convince the commissioning body that thanks to the experience of the professional involved, they know best.

That is a risky and seemly arrogant proposition so you’d better well be right with such a bold assertion. One would, however, hope that this particular firm or individual was chosen because of some kind of track record in getting things right and not off the cuff or because they were simply cheap.

The derided London 2012 logo

The derided London 2012 logo

The London 2012 organising committee got tonnes of stick for taking this approach. The logo was derided in the UK press and the head of the committee called before parliament to explain himself. They stuck with it however and it became the new benchmark for global sports event branding (I really rather liked it from the start).

There are then risks in both ways. Choose the wrong agency and don’t perhaps commit to supporting them, and get a bad result, or open the whole thing up and forgo the experience given by a professional agency and hope that by throwing enough muck, something suitable sticks.

Worth mentioning perhaps that there’s a middle way that’s been popping up recently that I’d argue begins to suffer from problems but also has advantages from both ends of the spectrum, that of getting an agency to design several solutions (which they might do anyway) but then open that shortlist to a vote. The biggest problem I see here is that the final decision may not be the right solution. Often the “prettiest” design will win or in a worse case, the vote may be hijacked by a particularly active sector or group of people (see Boaty McBoatface).

Work for free!

My biggest bugbear however with open competitions is that it asks people to undertake work for free. Speculative work or Spec work really is an unpleasant thing. One assumes the Beijing 2022 committee would like some of the worlds brightest and best creative minds to take part? For the individuals and companies perhaps to undertake a typical process to create a design. Any serious designer would at the very least get stuck into some research, in this case of Olympic history, Chinese history, the history of winter sports and look into the whole area of sports and big event branding.

Personally, I know that some of my most successful projects involve getting to know the company or charity, heading to the office or turning up to a farm to get to experience the culture and speak to the stakeholders. To try and get in the mind of the MD or marketing lead and see what their vision for the company is. None of this will be happening with the 2022 games logo, the committee will simply provide a spec to work towards. There won’t be the opportunity to challenge this, to question what’s most important or review things with the committee. The spec will be the spec.

The process then will suffer two fold. Firstly if I’m to commit to designing a logo for the 2022 games then I need to do it in the knowledge that I will most likely be doing it for free. No reward. Nothing. How much time do I wish to commit to this then? Should I commit the same amount as I do for a paid job? How many hours is that? How much work should I do for free?

Beijing_2008Secondly how well can I commit to this? I’m limited by the process to what amounts to secondary resources, even if I live in Beijing I can’t get access to the organisers and dig deeper into their vision.

Worth nothing that the 2008 Summer Games design was undertaken as a competition that received just shy of 2000 entries and was won ultimately by Chinese graphic designer Guo Chunning. It’s quite smart, but I don’t love it.

A spark of creative genius

Perhaps the hope is that some rare spark of genius will arrive from either a professional or amateur, despite the limitations of the brief, and for the games sake I hope this comes true. I suspect however this won’t be the case and the final design will come from the spare time of a professional designer, a situation that I’ve reported on many times in the past. And for that one professional, the effort will have been worth it, the gamble paid off, but for everyone else, I’m afraid they will have worked for nothing.

If you are a designer, do you think you’ll have a go at this? How much time are you prepared to give to it? Have you taken part in competitions like this in the past and has it gone well, or badly? Shout up in the comments!