Critiquing Olympic logos can seem as much a sport as the Games themselves.
Case in point: This list from the AIGA’s Eye On Design, in which legendary graphic designer Milton Glaser rates every logo from the first Games in 1924 to the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Glaser, who is perhaps best known for his iconic I “Heart” NY logo, deconstructs each of the Games’ logos with the keen eye of someone who’s been at this for a very long time. His favorite? A strikingly simple design from the 1964 Tokyo summer Olympics. (Glaser scores it 92/100.)
The logo, designed by art director Masaru Katsumi and graphic designer Yusaku Kamekura, is markedly different from the geometric mess of Tokyo’s 2020 logo. It’s notable for its balanced clarity: A red circle evoking the Japanese flag’s rising sun sits atop golden rings and bold Helvetica wordmark reading “Tokyo 1964.” Glaser appears to be a fan of its simplicity. “Appropriately redacted and without any confusion. The parts fit,” he writes.
Few of the remaining logos fare anywhere near as well. Glaser ranks a small handful of logos in the range of 80—90/100, a few of which we’ve collected here. Many of the others he pans outright, particularly those from the Games’ first thirty years. Those he calls, among other things, “strange and lacking focus” (Berlin 1936), “banal without any graphic intensity” (Garmisch-Partenkirchen 1936), and “a curious solution that looks like a travel brochure (St. Moritz 1948). Harsh.
But he’s right. Prior to the geometric mark of the 1960 Squaw Valley Winter Games, many of the logos looked like government mandated insignias. Things improved in the ’60s, a period in graphic design history when the minimalist style began to take hold and Glaser himself was becoming a superstar designer at Push Pin Studios.
Glaser provides no insight into his rating process. Neither did he immediately respond to our request for comment. But Glaser has a clear distaste for unjustifiable complexity. His criteria for a good Olympic logo, it seems, is a balance between clarity and unexpectedness.
As for this year’s logo? Glaser likes it. “A presentation that looks fresh and contemporary. The athletes joining hands at the top are executed in a way that works well with the other elements. It feels like something new,” he writes.
A gold medal for graphic design, amidst a slew of bronze medal expectations.
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