Developing a new global visual communication language

19 Nov 2020

To circumvent language barriers, the design team for Tokyo 1964 developed a visual communication language through an array of symbols or pictograms.

Such was their popularity during the Olympic Games that design critics have since stated that the pictograms permanently changed the idea of graphic design and represented one of the earliest steps on the road to replacing words with images on the global stage to overcome language barriers. The pictograms for Tokyo 1964 represented the 20 different sports being contested as well as a further 39 symbols to provide general information. Pictograms have since been a mainstay of the Olympic Games.

The Tokyo 1964 pictograms were just one small part of a major design project to create the look and feel of the Games. As well as the pictograms, leading Japanese designers were responsible for the identity of the Tokyo 1964 tickets, posters, programmes, ID cards, medals, uniforms and guidance signs. They garnered international recognition, and have served as a model for later international events. Katsumi Masaru, who was the artistic director for Tokyo 1964, went on to produce designs for other major international events in Japan, including the 1970 Osaka Expo and the Olympic Winter Games Sapporo 1972.

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