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Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Olympics Logo

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

By Steve Owen, executive creative director

April 28, 2016 | 5 min read

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

Regardless of whether you believe the perceived plagiarism was true or not, for the International Olympic Committee to be tarred with such a brush would obviously go against all its ideals. The organisers 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.

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 gets 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 the audience in the way Tokyo has, they also risked receiving ideas or suggestions which are vague and beige and don’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.

So the organisers 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, they took references from traditional sources. The pattern within the logo is derived from a 17th century tribal fabric that comes from the Tokyo area. It’s mashing up tradition and modernity to create something iconic.

When you look at the other logos that made it onto the shortlist, they really could be from any other country; one of them feels vaguely Chinese, another resembles a tricolour that could be from either Italy or France. But with the chosen logo it doesn’t just look Japanese, it feels Japanese. There is a sense of structure, order and self-control to the mark that evokes the mind-set 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, one of the reasons why 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 is a perfect example of this. When the logo was first unveiled, there was lots of negative feedback from mainstream media. But that quickly changed in the lead up to the Olympics, when the logo appeared on signage, on uniforms, on tickets, etc. and people started to experience the brand rather than look at the logo in isolation. So, we shouldn’t be too quick to judge it at this stage. We need to see how the logo interacts with other elements and how it feels as an emotional part of the Olympic brand.

If nothing else though, the most important lesson we take from the new Tokyo 2020 logo is how to invite the audience into the creative process, taking them on the journey and exploring the different possibilities together. However, the real challenge for brands today is to come up with something collaboratively and transparently that still feels different and compelling in the modern world.

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

Steve Owen is executive creative director at Landor

Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Olympics Logo

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