U-Turn Ahead

May 30th, 2012 by Mat Dolphin

With the London 2012 Olympics drawing ever closer, the much publicised visual identity is now rolling out and we’re seeing an increasing number of applications using the branding in different ways. The recent unveiling of the Olympic tickets designed by Futurebrand revealed an interesting turnaround. The prevailing consensus – most notably on the Creative Review comments board – is that the previously hated branding was now actually working quite well and a number of people, having lived with it for the last five years, have changed their minds. Anyone with a passing interest in design will surely be aware of the venom directed towards the Wolff Olins designed logo when it first emerged in 2007. This negativity came not only from designers but from the general public and, unsurprisingly, tabloids newspapers. Now, with designers leading the way, is it possible that the tide is turning and the logo, it turns out, isn’t actually that bad?

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with changing your mind – our job involves a lot of looking at ‘stuff’ on a purely aesthetic basis and it’s unrealistic (and unnecessary) to impose a rule that your first reaction can’t change. On seeing a piece of design for the first time, it’s often difficult not to make a snap decision as to whether you like it or not. There is an argument that your initial reaction is the most accurate, and if a logo / website / poster doesn’t do it’s intended job immediately then it has failed as a piece of design. But is this always the case?

Sites like Brand New are an interesting place to observe this kind of behaviour. For the uninitiated, it’s a convenient, well-written news source that keeps us up-to-date on all the big developments in the world of logo design and branding. We love it, but there is one element of the site (and the same goes for countless others like it), that is a little off-putting – the comments section.

The reaction to new work isn’t always negative, but there does seem to be a worrying tendency for the comments section to turn into a design-criticism-lion-pit where the main aim of many of those commenting is simply to come up with the most amusing way to insult the featured work. This is in no way a criticism of Brand New, it’s a really good site (and there a plenty of other similar sites), neither is this a criticism of all the people who make comments on such sites. It’s just those who glance a piece of design work, decide they don’t like the colours and go in for the kill. People are much happier to act in an overly aggressive way (and more often than not anonymously) from behind the safety of a keyboard and, if a piece of work is featured that the masses deem to be under par, the mob mentality soon kicks in.

This was particularly evident when the Gap re-branding was unveiled in 2010. We blogged about it at the time and there’s no need for us to go into any more detail than we already have, but in short, the logo was effectively drowned at birth purely because of internet public opinion. Would it have been a successful re-brand if people had given it a chance? Perhaps not, but largely because of the criticism and knee-jerk reactions from the graphic design armchair pundits, we’ll never know.

We strongly encourage debate. We’re pretty opinionated and have aired our fair share of views on other people’s design work in the past. We think it’s a massively important part of design – if you want your work in the public domain, you need to be prepared to have people pick holes in it and possibly hate it. After all, we’re designers, not artists. If someone despises your work, you either accept that they’re wrong and move on, or accept that they’re right and you didn’t do a good enough job. And move on.

However, with any criticism an amount of understanding is required. Is ripping someone’s work to shreds after seeing part of it on a website the best way to express your thoughts? Often the vitriolic opinions written on the comments boards are in response to seeing a single logo or a small part of something much bigger. And it goes without saying that a design project like the London 2012 Olympics goes far beyond the logo.

The fact is that the initial negativity has given way to the London 2012 design work becoming accepted – and even embraced – by the readers of design websites and general public. It took a while, but the closer the event gets, the more positive comments we’re seeing regarding the design work. This is a point worth bearing in mind the next time you see a logo on a website and decide to take to the comments board.

As mentioned above, we encourage debate and would love to hear your thoughts. Perhaps you’ve done a u-turn on the London 2012 logo? Or maybe you hate it as much as you did when you first saw it? If so, feel free to air your views and vent your frustrations…

Thanks for reading.

Phil and Tom

13 comments on “U-Turn Ahead

  1. Livi on said:

    I have done a bit of a U-turn on the London 2012 logo. I thought it was truly hideous at first, now upon looking at it recently, I quite like the dynamic freshness it has. It’s almost a little childish and playful, intentionally obtuse, somewhat whimsical of kiddish playtime, like ‘oh man, sport is so cool! woooosh!’. I think people automatically expect something more elegant and well, expected. Since they didn’t get that, there was a huge kneejerk reaction to it. There is this tendency in the UK to play things horribly safe, so I for one am glad Wolff Olins tried something a little different.

    Personally, I really don’t like Brand New. I find most of the posts themselves to be overly negative and focus on such minute negative aspects and completely ignore the charm and over-arching themes of a lot of the logos. Then I find they play up and enjoy ones that I personally find very ‘safe’ and dull. I can respect that it really is a matter of opinion, but designers, it really doesn’t hurt to tell people what you like about something every now and then.

  2. David Airey on said:

    Comment sections will always attract trolls. Particularly on websites with the amount of traffic Brand New receives. It could almost be a full-time job moderating them.

    That said, I tend to favour blogs with a strict moderation policy, because when only those comments that add to the discussion are allowed through, commentators can really boost the value of a particular post (I’ve learned a ton from people who add comments to my websites).

    Regarding the 2012 branding, the main thing I don’t like is how the application is kind of all over the place.

    The 2012 shop is a good indicator:


  3. Stuart Crawford on said:

    The tickets don’t particularly have the same ‘feel’ that the logo has, in saying that, I still don’t like anything I’ve seen. The stamps for example are quite garish.

  4. Richard Baird on said:

    I completely agree with David, some form of moderating (that is to let-through those that can explain and expand on their dislike/like) is likely to turn sites like Brand new into a far more positive discussion/experience regardless of whether the consensus is positive or negative. At the moment it’s a petty free-for-all.

  5. Tony Mulvany on said:

    Your comments regarding the Gap rebrand are interesting… The logo, and therefore the rebrand and the whole body of work behind it, was so viciously and relentlessly criticised by the general public and designers alike, it was shot down within milliseconds of launch. This may well have been deserved in this instance, but I think that it’s always dangerous when the tabloid press (and some of the poorer design blogs) get hold of a snippet of information about something they know little about and present it out of context, it’s incendiary and done for no other reason than to get people riled. No matter how good a logo is, if you present it on its own alongside a statement quoting the total cost of the rebrand, you’re always going to face a backlash and negative opinion from “design-ignorant” individuals regardless of the quality of the work.

    I think the negativity was particularly strong for the 2012 Olympic work because of the perception that it was paid for entirely by tax payers’ money, this is always going to be a problem with anything funded by the public purse, particularly design work… Invariably “I could have done that” mentality ensues.

    I wonder how many of the designers originally criticising the 2012 Olympics brand work have changed their opinion for no other reason than they’re five years older and they, themselves have grownup along with their opinions. I myself am guilty of originally criticising this work… but five years ago I admit that I didn’t know much about my industry and got swept up with the mob mentality and bought a ticket for the bandwagon… I have done the full 180 U-turn on this and acknowledge that it’s fit for purpose, versatile and suitably unique – exactly what’s needed for promoting an Olympic Games.

  6. Richard Baird on said:

    That’s a great point Tony, I made a silly comment about the 2012 identity that ended up in the Daily Mail. I was young, inexperienced and went with a silly and unjustified instinctual opinion (I really wanted the press attention as well).

    That was a valuable mistake and something I’ve seriously learnt from, I would like to think I’ve grown up since then, both as a designer and as a critical thinker.

  7. David Cole on said:

    Everyone is oohing and ahhing over the ticket design, which is admittedly rather good, and they’re forgetting they hate the logo. Nice tickets do not make the logo any better, they just distract from its shortcomings.

  8. Paul Williams on said:

    I think a huge amount of the design community made the same judgement Richard, myself included.

    However the logo works on a basic level that it still looks fresh and exciting even though it was designed back in 2007.

    I agree with David that some of the rollout has been poorly designed but as the Futurebrand tickets show, give it to the right designers and the logo is a great flexible piece of design to build creative from.

  9. Richard Holt on said:

    I have the opposite opinion to David Cole above. I loved the 2012 logo when I first saw it and have defended it ever since, which has been exhausting and frustrating. It’s brave, fresh and powerful and really has become an iconic symbol of the Games already.

    Those tickets on the other hand feel a bit of a mess, with everything thrown at them. The logo and the pictograms are strong individually, but the tickets look like timid moodboards of the identity, complete with Photoshop gradients and timid transparency. A real missed opportunity. The only thing I admire is the decision to go portrait rather than landscape, that’s lovely. They could be beautiful in the flesh of course, but along with most Londoners, I’ll never know.

    So I’m left confused as to how many people can still be whining about the logo, and how readily everyone has lined up to fawn over the tickets.


  10. Andrew Sabatier on said:

    My thoughts in 2007, 2009 and 2011…

    Excerpt: 2007… http://bit.ly/L8AS16

    2012 Is not a logo in the conventional sense. It is a conduit for a larger experience. It contains things, many things; it celebrates inclusiveness and multiplicity. It is a channel for experience. A channel intended to mediate an experience without trying to control the content in a traditional, static and product-oriented manner. Old school aesthetes may not like the forms but
    there is a lot to admire in the treatment of the medium

    Excerpt: 2009… http://bit.ly/xpdbCK

    The 2012 identity is appropriately different from other Olympic brand identities. The new identity fits well with the perceived attributes of the British nation as manifested in the irreverence of punk, the celebration of the anti-hero and amateur genius, the holding of intellectuals with suspicion, relentless complaint, pragmatism and the rejection of anyone who tells them what to do

    Excerpt: 2011… http://bit.ly/e23U3t

    … the London 2012 identity is definitively ‘new-school’ and does what should probably be expect of great British creative brand thinking. It disrupts and self-consciously counters the norm in an energetic and digitally enabled way. Now that we’ve lived with London 2012 for a while the disruptive element doesn’t jar as much. The brand now works to achieve a similar Olympian objective of unity in diversity. And, at the same time nods towards a British punk irreverence, while, paradoxically, demonstrating an anti-mainstream and anti-design sentiment

  11. Tom Muller on said:

    I completely agree with David on the 2012 logo and its applications. While I’m still not a fan of the mark designed by WO, I, like everyone else now accepts it as a given. Some of the early brand visuals (as created by Universal Everything) do bring the brand alive in a nice way, irregardless of the actual mark. Where everything falls though, is the secondary applications which are handled by different agencies. SomeOne designed the game icons in a derivative style based on the WO established graphic language, and it seems Futurebrand are now applying those mixed with yet another iteration of the brand language, diluting the global brand language.

  12. Fourleaf - Kate on said:

    I’m definitely one of those people who have some a bit of a ‘u-turn’ on this…After despising the original logo (was that seriously unveiled in 2007 – time flies), I find myself drawn to the tickets, and in the surprising position whereby I actually quite like them!

    Of course, it’s entirely possible that my improving opinion is relative to the decreasing size of the logo…

  13. Tom Muller on said:

    I do admit though that, individual tastes aside, WO correctly predicted the relevance of the 2012 design language/aesthetic. See “The New Ugly”.

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