The Sport of Designing an Olympic Emblem
Updated: Feb 23
February 16th, 2022
By: Miranda Soong
The Winter Olympics in Beijing has kicked off 2022 to a swift start since it began earlier this month! From figure skating to snowboarding, and everything in between, we’ve been cheering on our favorite athletes from our screens at home. For over 100 years, the Olympic Games has been a cherished ceremony that unites athletes and people from countries all over the world––and the Olympic logo is an indispensable element of this event.
The Olympic logo is a symbol of joy, athleticism, and national pride. It represents the union of all countries converging to celebrate their greatest athletes and bring honor to their country. And one of the most iconic aspects of the Olympic Games is where these games are hosted. When creating an Olympic logo, designers are focused on making a unique, bold logo that represents both the host city’s culture and the Olympic brand. It has to symbolize the triumphant and dynamic nature of the Games, while also stylistically incorporating elements from traditional art, history, or other cultural elements from the host city. Furthermore, this logo sets the tone for the Games and all merchandise, uniforms, event spaces, broadcast media, and more. Considering all these factors, let’s take a look at some of the most iconic Olympic logos and their timelessness to this day!
Cultural Identity and Infusion
This isn’t the first time that the Olympics have been held in Beijing. The Beijing Olympics in 2008 had one of the most iconic emblems and themes in Olympic history. In this logo, also called “Dancing Beijing,” artist Guo Chunning combined the hollowness of traditional Chinese seal and calligraphy to infuse Chinese culture with the Olympic spirit of a figure running (with the figure resembling the Chinese character, 京, meaning “capital,” to represent the host city). This artwork emphasizes the dynamic and triumphant essence of the Olympic Games, while simultaneously bringing honor to Chinese culture in a simplistic and traditional way.
Beijing was not the only host city to infuse its country’s cultural artwork with its emblem. Mexico City’s logo from the 1968 Summer Olympics carefully crafts contemporary art with Mexican folk art through linear patterns and bright colors. Designed by Lance Wyman, this logo is timeless with its contemporary and modern design, yet still recalls traditional art and culture. Additionally, with the blending of the ‘68 and Olympic rings, this logo is immediately reminiscent of its era and effectively establishes the Mexico City Olympics’ mark in Olympic history.
Not all Olympic logos have stressed the incorporation of cultural influence from the host city. In 2012, the London Olympics logo was unveiled and received a bit of controversy. Designed by Rachel Whiteread, it was the first logo in Olympic history to not feature cultural elements from British culture or London’s rich history, as it only features this radical design of shapes in simplistic colors. It could well represent any other country because there are no distinct features that shout “London.” Additionally, many thought that this logo did not accurately represent 2012, but rather the ‘80s or ‘90s with its bright summer pink and yellow colors. Others thought that this logo was effective as a more youthful and joyous approach to the Summer Olympics. However, this logo goes down in the books as one of the least recognizable––and possibly, least memorable––Olympic logos.
On the other hand, this year’s Beijing Olympics logo successfully focused on visual modern elements while still retaining cultural significance. This logo adopted a similar framework to the 2008 Beijing Olympics logo, but artist Lin Cunzhen took a more modern spin on it. The logo resembles the Chinese character, 冬, meaning “winter,” to cleverly resemble a skater at the top and a skier at the bottom of the emblem. The modern style of the flowing ribbon also emphasizes the rolling mountains of China and the event venues of the Winter Olympics.
Celebration of Unity
The most important factor of creating an Olympic emblem is successfully conveying the celebration of all countries uniting and the triumphant, joyous nature of the Games. One way artists have done this has been by incorporating colors and connecting figures within the logo design. A great example of this merging between colors and figures is the logo from the 2016 Rio Olympics, designed by the artist agency, Tátil Design. This logo incorporates all the elements mentioned previously: cultural identity, visual simplification, and celebration of the unity of nations. Some have noticed that this logo stylistically spells out “Rio” with interconnected human figures in the colors of the Brazilian flag. Furthermore, the logo is illustrated with the silhouette of Sugarloaf mountain, one of the world-famous landmarks of Rio de Janeiro. Founder of Tátil Design, Frederico Gelli, said it best: “We wanted to give a sculpture city a sculpture logo.”
Emblems bring the Olympic Games alive
The emblem for each Olympic Games is a piece of history; a symbol of one of the greatest gatherings of the world. It builds an identity that becomes a kingpin in connecting the thousands of design projects that go into the Olympic Games. Most importantly, the Olympic emblem encapsulates the celebration, pride, and peace that brings humanity together from all backgrounds at the most iconic global event of our time. As the 2022 Beijing Olympics are soon coming to a close, let’s continue to celebrate the world’s greatest athletes and bring home that gold medal! Who are you rooting for?
About the Author
Miranda Soong is one of the Co-Content Directors this semester. She is a sophomore at NYU, pursuing Economics and Marketing with a minor in the Business of Entertainment, Media, and Technology.