Graphic Design Goes to the Games

Fuwa, Mascot for the 2008 Beijing OlympicsOver 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

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.

Right, from top: Games designers play. Photographs of Otl Aicher’s beautiful designs for posters, tickets, booklets, medals and guides, from the 1972 Munich Olympics. Much more available at 1972 munich
Schedule Plan Poster


  1. I’m indifferent towards the 2008 Olympic mascots. However, I love the ‘Dancing Beijing’ logo. It’s probably one of the best designed I’ve seen. It really captures the culture.

  2. i actually really like the beijing mascots. they are perfect for an olympics set in china. looking back at all your examples of olympics-past, i love all the 70s iconography too. each olympics is unique!

    and you’re moving? staying in brooklyn? we’re also moving the beginning of september and i haven’t packed a thing yet. oops.

  3. I just returned from China, where the Fuwa (like the entirety of the 2008 Olympics graphic design program) are everywhere in China: train stations, airports, billboards, shopping malls. The Beijing Zoo has an exhibition about the Fuwa, because each one represents a different kind of animal (or olympic flame in the case of HuanHuan, the red one).

    Lots of info here.

  4. Wow I love the style of the Munchen Olympics. Very, very well done indeed. Very much unlike the garbage that was created for London 2012. The most expensive ugliness I’ve ever seen in my life.

    Get a taste of it here (may hurt your eyes)

  5. Spend quite a bit of time going through the various graphic elements that went into this olympic.

    Was pleased to see how traditional oriental themes has been upgraded with the modern touched.

    I’ve always been a fan of symbolism within symbolism, hence for me my favourite olympic element is the logo which depicts the atheleticism and celebratory tone of the games and the location of the games.

    Do check out the other elements here, i.e. the chinese script inspired icons for the sports

  6. I’ve always been partial to the Mexico Olympics in 1968, since it’s my birth country. Even though I wasn’t even born at the time, the identity was so strong and well developed, that even today you see t-shirts using that crazy font for bands and other pop-culture things. 40 years later this identity is still very much alive.

    Just read that in October an exhibit will open at the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico city that will display all the work that was done. Anyone lives there or goes there often?

    Couldn’t find a lot online:

  7. Worth noting at Aicher’s designs were, to my knowledge, the only ones to be re-used in the subsequent 1976 Montreal Olympics – the broad bands of colour against silver-ink backgrounds, the layout styles of posters and other print ephemera, and the pictograms; about the only new elements were the ‘beaver’ symbol and ‘m-rings’ logo (parodied in Blades of Glory, by the way).

    His use of Univers throughout matched perfectly with the City of Montreal’s use of it as their official font (used throughout the Metro and on city buildings, etc.). When the city redesigned their logotype a couple of years ago, they chose the Aicher-designed Rotis font (I know, not the greatest one, but…)

  8. This has nothing to do with cute Olympic mascots…

    Khoi, grats on being a part of the faculty for SVA’s upcoming MFA in Interaction Design. This program is looking pretty kickass and hopefully, I’ll be able to sit through some of your classes.

    For those that are interested, here’s the scoop for Fall 2009…

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