‘It was about having something powerful, that you could get behind’: The evolution of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games identity

Logos, especially for sporting events, can be polarizing. In 2014, John Brownlee penned a Fast Company Co.Design piece on the “depressing history of design crimes” related to Olympics logos. Flipping through the slides, there are some notable examples of good, bad and ugly — including the London 2012 logo and identity, which was widely panned upon release.

The original 2020 Tokyo Olympic games logo was, according to Margaret Rhodes in Wired, a “confusing geometric mess.” It has since been changed amid accusations of plagiarism. Designing these types of logos can be difficult. Getting the aspects of competition, movement and sense of place are daunting tasks — which is why the release of the 2018 Special Olympics USA Games is so refreshing.

The Special Olympics USA Games logos have often been well-received and have an elegance and distinct connection to the Special Olympics. The 2018 logo and identity, created by Publicis Seattle, takes it one step further by incorporating Pacific Northwest cues — including the representation of the water and landscape around Seattle. Additionally, the imagery story of the games’ ethos, “Rise With Us,” is evident as the mark rises and the idea of sweat and tears of joy of the athletes, volunteers, family and fans is also present.

Jason Lucas, executive creative director at Publicis Seattle, noted the importance, and challenges, of getting the tone just right.

“There are the Olympics and every other sporting event that have used up just about every piece of iconography, and have so much baggage in them,” said Lucas. “We had to make it special to this place. Seattle has its own set of overused iconography, and we tried to avoid that. Thankfully, once all of that is off the table, it leaves a few directions to go.”

Much like the vibe of Seattle, a few key themes became obvious and bubbled up immediately.

“We had to find something that was a fresh way that represented the games here,” noted Lucas, who had stints at BBDO, TBWA\Chiat\Day, Oxygen Media and MTV. “A lot of organic things came up — we ended up with a flame, a raindrop, an allusion to water and the depth of Seattle’s culture and the games themselves. That’s represented by the many layers — and gives it an iconic feel.”

The process of logo and identity creation, as it relates to collaboration, is another challenge, but it was evident from the onset that both Publicis Seattle and the Special Olympics were aligned on the vision.

“It was great. It was really collaborative,” said Lucas. “In the very first meeting, we had our hunches on the ones we would really like to see advance. It didn’t take any amount of steerage to get it there, it was a natural gravitation for everybody to the ones we thought were the strongest. From the beginning, this [the final design] was one that was in there. Then we went down to a dozen or more to show a breadth of what we could bring and this was in the very first iteration. Then from that, we went down to maybe four that we really honed, but this one we kept thinking would be really cool if it went through — because it stands out and it feels different, and it does celebrate in a way that a traditional sports icon might not.”

The Special Olympics themselves are a powerful testament to perseverance and, simply put, the athletes who participate are athletes. Honoring the dedication of not just the athletes, but all involved, was a key consideration.

“When you really learn about what's involved in the training and what people go through, you really start to realize that the idea of this — the special part of the Olympics — what these athletes have to do — is the enormous amount of work just to get to the bar where most people might start, and then they go beyond that,” said Lucas. “Actually, they are really superhuman in a way. It was about having something powerful that you could get behind. That I'd want to wear, I want to be a part of — and get behind that movement.”

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Doug Zanger

Doug Zanger is the Americas editor for The Drum. He leads the Americas editorial team’s content activity in the growing region. Based in Portland, Oregon, he is committed to sharing the most meaningful stories that benefit the global industry and its people. A Minnesota native, Zanger has covered a wide range of brands, issues and personalities, including Aloe Blacc, Seu Jorge, Wendy Clark, Susan Credle, Dan Wieden, Jeff Goodby and more. Fiercely dedicated to diversity, equality and talent, he has interviewed several women in leadership roles through his Exceptional Women of the World podcast.

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