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Olympic pictograms through the ages

Designer and AIGA Medalist Steven Heller commentates on Olympic pictograms through the ages in this short video from the New York Times (embedded above).

It’s hard to argue with the two sets Heller gives most praise to — those for Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008 (both shown toward the end of the video). My personal favourite are the Beijing pictograms. Clean. Contemporary. Appropriate.

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14 comments about “Olympic pictograms through the ages”

  1. I am with you one the Beijing pictograms David – my personal favourite as well :)
    Cultural elements of each host nation clearly played a role the form of the pictograms. Really interesting stuff. Cheers!

  2. i was a little disappointed during the Vancouver Olympics. our icons were as Heller states, reminders of stock icons… :S

  3. I enjoyed watching that little video. The bad examples made me giggle, especially the naked ones with the guy that had his behind hanging out! I loved the artwork for the Beijing in general.

    Do you remember the ink animation for the opening sequence for it? The ink merged into athletes – really stunning moving image arts.

    I watched the Vancouver Olympics this year (mostly because my cousin was actually representing GB in Figure Skating) and wasn’t a fan of their icons either.

  4. That video was lovely :] I’m sure the comments above have already said what I wanted to say. Many thanks for sharing!

  5. This is the moving image artwork I was referring to – Youtube video. Loved this.

  6. Some beautiful animation work in that video, Mark. Cheers. Some of the athletes seem a little fake (like the hurdler at the end), but overall it’s great.

  7. Thanks for adding this…great to see the good, the bad, and the ugly…

  8. Loved this post.
    Your a great designer.

  9. To be honest: I’m not that fond of those two post-1984 “good” pictogram sets either.

    This is going to sound harsh, but the Athens and Chinese icons give me the feeling both organisations found a caveman and gave him a crash course in Illustrator. Granted, they’re both better executed than the caveman design of Lillehammers pictograms, but the first is too over-the-top wannabe-classical and the second are too much of squiggly lines to me.

    Might be a nice contest/research: ask graphic designers to create they’re own vision of Olympic pictograms.

  10. Great stuff here, design can never be to important. Its the first thing people see and we are living in a visual world. Its also usually what sells clients, if they like what they see they will hire you!

  11. I loved this retrospective of the olympic pictograms, however, disappointed that the pictograms from Torino where not included.

    Torino has a great identity system and feel they should be included at the top. It was all about energy and motion and looked beautiful.

    Here is a link: http://images.beijing2008.cn/20070505/Img214050907.jpg

  12. My favourite pictograms are the ones of munich 1972: clear structured and kept simple

  13. The munich 1972 pictograms are classic.

  14. Love the two you mentioned, but I’m partial to the Greece pictograms. I’ve been to Greece twice, and was more fascinated with the ancient art than anything else. The Greek meandering design, for instance, has been in Greek art and architecture since as far back as 3500BCE. You can see this design in the Knossos Palace on Crete, which dates back to the Bronze Age. Hope my designs last that long!

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