Why the redesigned Tokyo 2020 Olympics logo is more than just a safe bet

Seven months after the plagiarism scandal that emerged following the unveiling of the first Tokyo 2020 Olympics logo, the organizers have answered critics with a new and very different design. But is the new logo now playing it too safe, or has it hit the mark?

The revised logos for the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games, designed by Asao Tokolo.

Regardless of whether you believe the perceived plagiarism was true, for the International Olympic Committee to be tarred with such a brush would obviously go against all its ideals. The organizers could have held out and argued the similarity was just coincidence—which I actually would agree with—but understandably they thought it better to go back to the drawing board. The most debatable decision was the process to crowdsource the new design, opening the creative process up to the Japanese public.

The first Tokyo 2020 Olympics logo, designed by Kenjiro Sano, was accused of being plagiarized from work by Belgian designer Olivier Debie.

One of the biggest challenges facing agile brands today is the need to be transparent and collaborative. Social media is becoming more and more prevalent, with the world getting smaller (and louder) as a result. People love to have an opinion, and negativity and controversy usually get you noticed and “liked” far more than genuine positivity. So brands must adapt and be willing to invite audiences into the creative process far more than ever before.

However, by opening up to audiences in the way Tokyo has, organizers also risked receiving ideas or suggestions that were vague and dull, and didn’t actually answer any strategic need. It’s much harder these days to create something that feels original but still has a sense of open transparency in the creative process.

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics logo.

So the organizers had a difficult balance to strike with the redesign. The result is indeed a safe bet, but it’s not a bad one. There is a clear evolution from the 1964 Tokyo games logo and, rather than relying on the clichés of red and obvious Japanese iconography, the designer took references from traditional sources. The pattern within the logo is derived from a 17th-century tribal fabric that comes from the Tokyo area. The logo mashes up tradition and modernity to create something iconic.

When you look at the other logos that made it onto the short list, they really could be from any other country: one of them feels vaguely Chinese, another resembles a tricolor that could be from either Italy or France. But the chosen logo doesn’t just look Japanese, it feels Japanese. There is a sense of structure, order, and self-control to the mark that evokes the mindset of the nation. Yet it’s a non-clichéd logo that has a clear sense of evolution and a real sense of modernity and dynamism. It feels like it can move, adapt, and work well in a digital space.

But it’s important to understand that one of the reasons new logos can receive criticism from the public is that people aren’t necessarily willing to imagine it in application. That’s why, at Landor, we always advise our clients to think beyond the logo.

London 2012 Olympics logo
The 2012 London Olympics logo, pictured here on a ticket booklet. Image courtesy of Flickr user Tom Page.

The logo for the London Olympics in 2012 is a perfect example of this. When the logo was first unveiled, there was a lot of negative feedback from mainstream media. But that quickly changed in the lead-up to the Olympics when the logo appeared on signage, uniforms, tickets, and other materials and people started to experience the brand rather than look at the logo in isolation. So, we shouldn’t be too quick to judge the Tokyo 2020 logo at this stage. We need to see how it interacts with other elements and how it feels as an emotional part of the Olympic brand.

London 2012 Olympics Tickets_Tom Page
London 2012 Olympics tickets featuring its logo. Image courtesy of Flickr user Tom Page.

If nothing else, the most important lesson we take from the new Tokyo 2020 logo is how to invite audiences into the creative process, including them in the journey and exploring the different possibilities together. The real challenge for brands then becomes creating something collaboratively and transparently that still feels different and compelling in the modern world.

Yes, the Tokyo 2020 logo is a compromise, but when you consider the challenges, it’s a pretty good one.

About Landor and the Olympic Games:

Landor has a long history of branding at the Olympics—from the games themselves to national teams, corporate sponsorships, and personal experiences for the athletes and their families. Landor’s identities for the Atlanta, Nagano, and Salt Lake City Games celebrated the Olympics’ positioning of optimism, inspiration, friendship, and community and incorporated elements of what made each location and season unique. Landor also designed uniforms, equipment, vehicles, and merchandise for Team USA at the 2002 Olympics. In 2012, Landor helped create the P&G Family Home, a space for Olympians and their families to call home while at the Games.

This piece was originally published by The Drum (April 2016).

Header image courtesy of Flickr user tetedelart1855.

© 2016 Landor. All rights reserved.