Evolving the Olympic brand
How a century of design heritage informed a comprehensive evolution of the Olympic identity
Brand identity over the years
For 125 years, the Olympic Games have conveyed a message of inclusivity, universality and hope. It was time to bring together these timeless values in a comprehensive Olympic brand identity that is present not only during the Games, but also from flame to flame.Brand Management Director - IOC
The Olympic Games have one of the most widely recognised brands in the world – constructed over a century since the birth of the modern Games, yet with roots that reach back millennia to Ancient Greece. Throughout the years, hundreds of people have grown and enhanced that brand, and over time the need emerged to create a comprehensive foundational identity to increase consistency, efficiency and impact across all that the IOC does. The project would become the first of its kind since the modern Games began in 1896 – the development of a global Olympic identity designed for all mediums and channels.
Taking inspiration from the rich heritage of Olympic graphic design, a new visual system has been created to bolster the brand’s core values, all the while enhancing consistency and recognition through numerous applications. The evolved Olympic brand identity also adds purpose and emotion to a brand whose influence extends beyond the organisation and the Olympic Games to all stakeholders and personnel connected with the Olympic Movement.
The proud history of the Olympic rings
The Olympic rings were publicly presented for the first time in 1913. In the centre of a white background, five rings interlaced: blue, yellow, black, green and red.
For the Olympic Games, the Olympic rings, set on the white background of the Olympic flag, made their first appearance at the Games of the VII Olympiad Antwerp 1920.
In 1957, the IOC officially approved a specific version of the Olympic rings, differing only slightly from Coubertin’s original, in which the rings intersect each other.
Although spaces between the Olympic rings had already been seen in their visual presentation, in 1986 the IOC Graphics Standards included a description of how an official version of the rings with spaces should be produced.
As approved in 2010 by the IOC Executive Board, the official version of the Olympic rings returned to its original, seamlessly interlaced design, fulfilling Coubertin’s vision.
The new design system at a glance
The evolved brand pushes the Olympic brand identity further through a vibrant extended palette based on the Olympic colours, inspirational illustrations and tailored-made typography. It is about leveraging a new design system to communicate the brand values with emotion.Head of Brand Management - IOC
The IOC hired a Canadian agency to help propel the Olympic brand into the future by creating a comprehensive design system that balances consistency and flexibility. It includes fresh elements such as three custom-made typefaces, a series of graphic devices and illustrations, and guidelines on everything from the usage of colours to photography to grid systems. Every element was designed to reflect the hopeful, universal, inclusive, vibrant and progressive qualities of the Olympic brand, and for use across publications, digital, environment design and more.
Three new exclusive typefaces were created by three international typographers to bring an ownable and recognisable visual voice to all things Olympic. Olympic Headline is the brand’s signature bold and athletic display typeface for short and punchy titles, Olympic Sans is a Swiss Neo-grotesque typeface for body copy, and Olympic Serif brings a touch of tradition and elegance to the system.
While the primary colours of the Olympic symbol – blue, yellow, black, green, red and white – provide focus and remain at the foundation of the brand’s identity, the Olympic palette has expanded for digital interfaces, infographics and illustrations. The extended colours include new shades of the primary brand colours, as well as the Olympic medal colours: gold, silver and bronze.
Three international artists have contributed to the new Olympic identity, with 17 illustrations for use across publications, digital, environment design and more. The illustrations vary from geometric to hand-drawn, simple to detailed, yet they all communicate Olympic ideas with clarity and enthusiasm, helping convey themes that are difficult to express with photographs or words.
New graphic elements have been created to express the Olympic brand through colour and geometry. These patterns were inspired by the design of the field of play – courts, jumps, fields, tracks and lanes – lines that guide and transform the lives of athletes around the globe. Sport is at the core of the Olympic Movement, and the new graphic devices puts it at the heart of the Olympic brand too, while also supporting the idea of uniting the world on and off the field of play. These graphic elements provide playful and bold visuals that can be used to decorate both print and online material.
Olympic past inspiring the brand evolution
When it comes to evolving the identity of a brand with such a storied past, there’s no shortage of material to take inspiration from. Extensive research of the Olympic archives was conducted in order to find design pearls from past Games editions. The team drew on every decade, especially the golden age of graphic design through the 60s and 70s when the Olympic Games identities helped shape a new design aesthetic and approach that transcended cultures and languages.
Undoubtedly, the most important piece of Olympic identity throughout the years are the Olympic rings. The famed symbol was designed in 1913 by the founder of the modern Games, Pierre de Coubertin, and debuted at the Olympic Games Antwerp 1920, the first Games after World War I. The symbol represents the world coming together; at the time of its design, every flag in the world contained at least one of the symbol’s six colours. These colours continue to be at the foundation of the evolved identity, and the new graphic devices introduced combine them to further represent the world united on the field of play.
The idea of incorporating illustrations in the evolved brand identity was also rooted in and inspired by Olympic history – specifically the role art and creativity played in it. From 1912 to 1948, art competitions were held alongside the sport – with Olympic medals awarded to architects, poets and artists. Adding illustrations to the evolved brand identity was a way not only to communicate and connect in new ways, but also to bring art back into the heart of the Olympic brand, championing creative talent in the process.
The three new typefaces also took cues from the Olympic past. Bold, athletic and proud, Olympic Headline was inspired by typography found throughout Olympic Games history, such as the Tokyo 1964 and Seoul 1988 emblems. Clear, classic and Swiss-inspired, Olympic Sans is a contemporary interpretation of Akzidenz-Grotesk, a typeface designed in 1896, the same year that the modern Games were born. Traditional, artistic and inspired by heritage, Olympic Serif gives a subtle nod to the ancient Games.
THE EVOLUTION BEGINS
The new design system is currently in use across dozens of internal and external IOC channels and projects, as well as partners’ platforms, with the full brand rollout expected by Paris 2024. Today, it is possible to experience elements of the evolved identity in person at the IOC headquarters and The Olympic Museum in Lausanne as well as the Olympic Broadcasting Services and Olympic Channel Services offices in Madrid.
Digital channels such as Olympics.com and the Olympics app are currently undergoing a complete brand overhaul to align with the evolved identity and connect with audiences in new, more impactful ways. Alongside the Olympic Games, all future editions of the Youth Olympic Games will also feature the evolved brand identity.
New brand elements are also expected to be released in the future. In the coming months, a new set of Olympic sports and universal pictograms will be debuted, providing a language-neutral, gender-neutral icon system for the Olympic identity. New illustrations will also progressively be added to enrich and update the current brand assets, while allowing for continuing engagement with artists and creative talent.
The evolved brand identity was created by Canadian Agency Hulse & Durrell in collaboration with the IOC and a team of international artists, typographers and designers.
Client: International Olympic Committee
Agency: Hulse & Durrell
Creative Direction & Design: Ben Hulse, Greg Durrell
Art Direction & Design: Julien Hébert, Bryan-K. Lamonde (Principal)
Illustrations: Francesco Ciccolella, Abbey Lossing, Karan Singh
Typefaces: Fabian Harb, Seb McLauchlan (Dinamo); Julien Hébert (Principal)
Interviews with Marie Sallois and May Guerraoui available on request at email@example.com