Art + Design

5 Winning Olympic Designs from Over the Years

It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement of the Olympics. And while I love the drama of the close races and the heart-wrenching athlete backstories, Olympic design is where it’s at. I can’t think of a more high profile and high pressure commission for a designer than creating a graphic system for an Olympic Games.

The visual elements need to appeal to and be understood by an incredibly large, diverse, multi-lingual, and multi-cultural audience—in short, the whole world. And the results are often quite controversial (see the London 2012 and Tokyo 2020 logo debacles). After the Rio Olympics kicked off last week, I went down an internet rabbit hole of posters, logos, tickets, mascots, and medal designs from the games over the past century, ending up with these final five standouts.

Posters: 1972 Munich Summer Games

Otl Aicher’s timeless designs are still eye-catching and beautiful in their simplicity over 40 years later. His team also pioneered the use of the now-standard pictogram system to identify the different sports, and created the first official Olympic mascot (a dachshund!). Many more Olympic posters can be found here.

1972 Munich Olympics poster

Olympics

 

Logo: 1968 Mexico City Summer Games

Rooted in the geometry of the Olympic rings, Huichol Mexican yarn paintings, and 1960s op art, Lance Wyman’s logo is undeniably memorable. The Walker Art Center has a fascinating interview with Wyman, detailing the creation of the design system and the overarching historical and political context.

1968 Mexico City Olympics logo

sketch for 1968 Mexico City Olympics logo

Source: The Walker Art Center

 

Tickets: 1968 Grenoble Winter Games

While tickets are prosaic and usually overlooked in terms of design, the ones from the Grenoble Winter Games are well-executed and visually stunning. The information is presented clearly, with the large date numeral, time clock, and sport graphic adding visual impact. Check out a large collection of tickets from Games past over at theolympicdesign.com.

1968 Grenoble Olympics Ticket

GrenobleTicket4

Source: TheOlympicDesign.com

 

Mascot: 1984 Sarajevo Winter Games

The Olympic.org website has a timeline of all the Olympic mascots since they were first introduced in 1968, which is also an interesting visual survey of how popular illustration styles have changed over the years. Vučko the wolf was created by Jože Trobec for the Sarajevo Olympics, and the mascot became so popular it’s said to have changed public perception of wolves from a ferocious animal to a beloved one.

1984 Sarajevo Olympics mascot Vucko

1984 Sarajevo Olympics mascot Vucko

Source: Imgur

 

Medal: 2006 Torino Winter Games

An interesting bit of trivia—at the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896, first place winners were awarded a silver medal and an olive wreath. It wasn’t until eight years later at the St. Louis Olympics that gold, silver, and bronze medals became standard. And while Summer Olympics medals have had set iconography for almost 100 years, the Winter Olympics have allowed more room for creativity in medal design. For the Torino Games, designer Dario Quatrini bucked tradition and created a striking, donut shaped medal that echoes the shape of the Olympic rings.

Torino Medals

Source: Olympic Artifacts

Any favorites I missed? If you’re curious about the Rio Olympics logo and branding system, you can read about it here.

Emily Dubin

Emily Dubin

Senior Designer at Chronicle Books, collector of magazines, watches, and vintage ephemera. See more of her work at dubindesign.com.
Emily Dubin

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