Remember the incredible fuss over the logo for the 2012 London Olympics when it was first released in 2007?
The image consulting firm, Wolff Olins was identified as the culprit, as details came to surface about a process that required 400,000 British pounds and a year to create. Public petitions were signed to recreate the logo, Mayor Ken Livingstone refused to support the pink and orange colors, and some groups likened the jigsaw-puzzle shape to a swastika. One of the major newspapers in the U.K., The Daily Mail, even announced an open competition and invited anyone to participate in redesigning the logo. NBS Sports reported that an animated display of London’s 2012 Olympics logo was removed from an official website following concern it could trigger epileptic seizures.
Cut to 2010 and the week of the opening ceremonies in Vancouver. There’s a growing tide of opinion that the symbol for these games, based in British Columbia, is not an accurate reflection of their culture. Rather, they maintain, this logo is based on the native tribe of the Inuit who live in the Canadian arctic.
The logo and mascot of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics is inspired by the Canadian Inuit inukshuk. The inukshuk is a stone marker that was used by the Inuit to guide them through the northern Arctic terrain. The Inuit have inhabited northern Canada from Alaska to northern Russia for centuries.
But according to novelist Douglas Coupland in the February 7th New York Times Magazine, “If you want to use the First Nations motifs for your iconography, use the ones that actually are from here.”
The Vancouver logo, called Ilanaaq (el la nawk) was the result of a design competition, selected from 1,600 entries, and was considered by an international panel of nine judges. The selected logo was created by Vancouver-based graphic designers Elena Rivera MacGregor and Gonzalo Alatorre, who used an inukshuk in Vancouver’s Stanley Park as their inspiration.
“There were only so many things that could represent the entire country,” said Rivera MacGregor. “We researched it and we concluded the inukshuk was in fact one character that could pretty much tell the whole story. Rivera MacGregor claims that her winning design represents the culture, environment and people of Canada.
A prominent Canadian designer and writer, Marian Bantjes, wrote in her blog about the use of the inukshuk as a foundation for the Vancouver Olympic Games logo. “My first reaction? Gee, I didn’t know the Games were taking place in Nunavut. Where’s Nunavut? It’s up north, where there’s lots of snow and not a whole lot of landmarks.”
The organizing committee, VANOC, has worked to rationalize the symbol as a perfect representation of the Vancouver games. “Ilanaaq above all is a team player,” said John Furlong, chief executive officer of the Vancouver Organizing Committee for the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games. “As VANOC relies on partnerships and a shared vision to deliver the Games, so does our emblem. Each stone relies on the other to support the whole. Together, the result is a symbol of strength, vision and teamwork that points us all in the direction of excellence and it will welcome the world to Canada in 2010.”
I’ve been on teams charged with creating image-defining visuals and identity systems for high profile organizations and events. At this level of global awareness, it’s virtually impossible to meet everyone’s expectations. It’s also clear that the concern over making an icon or logo that is culturally appropriate tends to encourage a process-by-committee attitude. For the development of the brand identity of any Olympic games, we can only imagine the number of cooks working and adding their opinions in the kitchen. There seems a direct correlation between the level of exposure or prestige, and the number of contributing voices. It can quickly become a challenge just to sort and consider all ideas and opinions.
The other observation is a bit of an inside joke among designers who work in brand consulting firms. That is, there is a tendency among those companies to “back into” a design that resonates on an instinctive level. The creative brief — or the purpose statement that guides and informs the creative process — is often articulated after the design has been intuitively or instinctively developed by the creative team. More than once, I’ve watched a smart account exec write a beautifully-worded rationale that is custom-tailored to suit the logo that is to be presented and proposed to the client. Problem was, it was after the logo had already been created. I’ve even seen the back-end qualitative research repackaged in order to validate the design that everyone likes.
In this case, the designers saw a statue in a local park and drew inspiration from that. I have no doubt that they researched it enough to understand the significance of the symbolism (separate parts that are internally supportive of each other, therefore allowing the structure to exist), and latched onto that as a tenet of any Olympic games. They saw the opportunity to adapt a simple image and to assign symbolic colors to each of the five parts, which would validate the icon even further.
The fact that it didn’t exactly fit the local relevance requirement of the exercise was probably conveniently overlooked. After all, the Inuit are at least one important component of Canada’s identity. Like all creative endeavors it was designed as a matter of instinct, an inspiration, a process that is not empirical, logically created or perfect.
Think of it as an intuit of the Inuit. Below are logos from the 2006 and 2008 Winter Olympic games.
This entry was posted on Saturday, February 6th, 2010 at 10:18 am and is filed under Brand Identity, Marketing. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.