is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Vice President of User Experience at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
Over the past two weeks or so, I have for some reason been mistaken a few times for someone who is actually paying attention to the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But, sadly, I’m not paying much attention to them at all, mostly because I’m getting ready to move to a new apartment at the end of this month. (For those who are paying attention though, you can find few richer sources of coverage than the truly multiple-media reporting we’re painstakingly publishing at NYTimes.com/olympics.)
I have nothing against the Olympics, though. In fact, it makes complete sense to me how the combination of the West’s growing fascination with China and the spectacular winning performances of Michael Phelps makes for a damn compelling international spectacle. Especially when viewed in high-definition; these are really the first games being watched by the newly prevalent audience of HDTV owners, which I think accounts at least in part for NBC’s unexpected rating success — and by the way the games look great at 720p.
A Brief History of Olympics Logos
However, on the periphery, I’m enjoying some of the spillover of Olympic fever onto the design blogosphere. Folks are assembling retrospectives of past Olympic design and branding trends, which make for fascinating surveys of how an esteemed brand evolves and, usually, responds to prevailing trends rather than shapes them. Looking at the logos themselves shows too how consistently delicate a political affair designing these logos have been; with few exceptions, they’re somewhat awkward hybrids in which site-specific marks contort themselves to accommodate the Olympic rings. They’re certainly not all bad, but neither are they all good.
What’s also striking to me is how little we’ve seen of Fuwa (the Fuwa?), the five official mascots of the Beijing Olympics. I wasn’t even aware that the current Olympic committee had commissioned mascots at all until I went Googling for them, and there they were. Aside from the one panda, I’m not sure if I understand who or what they are, though they’re inoffensive enough I suppose. (It’s probably that same inoffensiveness that has inspired the public’s widespread disinterest.) These mascots do make me miss my favorite Olympic mascot of all time, though: designer Javier Mariscal’s deftly charming Cobi, created for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. Regrettably, Cobi seems underrepresented on the Web. And please, let us not discuss the 1996 Atlanta games’ Izzy.
’72 or Bust
Anyway, maybe the whole point of writing this hasty survey of Olympics graphics is so that I might draw a little more attention to this site dedicated to the graphics for the 1972 Munich games. (Which I first saw over at Rob Giampietro’s Lined & Unlined. There’s more of the work from these games at this exhibition site.) It’s a meticulous collection of the extensive array of collateral designed by the legendary Otl Aicher. I’ve been paging through it over and over for days, marveling at how exquisitely each one balances function with a pitch-perfect sense of minimalist form. Both at the item-by-item level and taken as a whole, it’s a bravura performance of Modernism at its most cogent and inspiring, something to truly hold up as aspirational. A reminder, perhaps, that the Olympic are capable of bringing out the very best in all kinds of people.+