Creating a brand identity for the Olympic Games is, at the same time, an exciting and treacherous brief. On the one hand, designers have a chance to create something truly unique that is a significant part of history. On the other hand, there is a great deal of pressure and, usually, the results are met with skepticism or flat-out scorn.
Sarah Berkheimer, design director of Cactus, may have put it best.
“I recognize that branding something as culturally ubiquitous as the Olympics can not be an easy task, to say the least. And as a designer, I can only sympathize with the enormity of the challenge behind creating a mark that will be everything to everyone.”
That’s one of the significant issues designers face with a project like this. It’s about as public as it gets, and there are more constituencies to placate than just about anything.
Milton Glaser, one of the most celebrated graphic designers in the U.S., was not charitable in his assessment of historical Olympics logos. Yet there were some bright spots, including Tokyo 1964 and Mexico City 1968.
These were two logos that were consistently called out positively among a list of agency and design professionals when asked their thoughts on Paris’ 2024 brand design and Olympics branding in general.
The bad news, however, is that the new logo for Paris, launched earlier this week, is falling flat among design denizens. The main image, evocative of French national symbol Marianne, has been derided as a dating/hookup app logo, among other things. Additionally, the majority of voters on (always entertaining and informative) Brand New aren’t fond of the look, though the typeface received high marks.
Below, more commentary on Paris 2024, where more than a few people were puzzled.
Marian Williams, creative director and head of design, OKRP
This particular version is lacking energy. And using negative space to show both the Olympic flame and the female face in the mark isn’t working because it isn’t visually celebrating this incredible global sporting event. I am distracted by the face and hair. It’s making a reference for France but loses a lot just to showcase that little bit of cleverness.
Jessica Tainsh, associate creative director, Firstborn
I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve seen this before. Like mounted in peeling gold foil to the window of the local salon mum would visit to get her perm touched up, circa the early 90s. [It’s] signage that, even then, seemed dated and, well, out of fashion (sorry, mum). It’s a nice sentiment, trying to symbolize so many things relevant to the country, and the event, in the one logo, but it falls well short execution-wise, swinging into comedic territory.
Caroline Dettman, co-founder, Have Her Back Consulting
While I applaud the strategic intent of incorporating a key historical female for the first time, the whimsical design misses the mark. Instead of conveying the importance of Marianne to the French or the nod that it was the Olympic Games in Paris in 1900 that first allowed women to compete, this logo conveys no depth or the substance that it deserves. The creative in me, however, wants the Tinder logo to date the 2024 Paris Olympics logo.
Sarah Berkheimer, design director, Cactus
It checks a lot of boxes: idea is clever and clearly has thought behind it; the logo intelligently marries many ideas conceptually and visually; the mark tells a story about a nation’s history and comments on the current social climate; overtly sexual execution, cliche, girlishly superficial and maybe even a bit demeaning. I respect the story that the logo for the Paris 2024 Olympics tells, but the design distracts from it.
Angie McDonald, design director, Atelier by Argonaut
While I love the idea of the typeface and appreciate the nod to art nouveau typography on Paris metro stations, this logo falls short in execution. What’s with the lowercase “i”? Overall, the mark just comes off as bulkier and less sophisticated than its inspiration.
As for the icon, the choice to represent Marianne (the personification of the French Republic) may have been with good intentions. But not only does it feel too “inside baseball,” but I think it misses the mark of what it appears to be going for, which is inclusivity. Honoring female athletes is a great idea. Still, the spirit of the Olympic games is about ALL kinds of people from ALL countries, putting aside their differences to compete with one another. By skewing the icon to a gender, the logo completely contradicts the original message of inclusivity and feels more like a feminized flame that’s trying too hard.
Anja Duering, ecd, Chemistry
The logo did its job; it made people feel something.
When I first saw the logo, I immediately thought of the flame and female athletes, fight for equal pay, etc. It’s a cool thought, although the execution seemed tame and not powerful. The idea of showing a coiffured female when talking about an important athletic event, including female athletes who kick ass, didn’t sit well with me. Then my eyes went beyond the visual, I actually read the words … Paris. OK, so it’s the flame and Marianne. Nothing. It didn’t move me or get me excited about the Olympics.
But what really bothered me was the missed opportunity. The opportunity to design the first logo that represented both the Olympics and the Paralympics and a logo that celebrated this inclusiveness.
Shawn Smith, curator of art and design, MullenLowe
My gut reaction was “Woah, that is so feminine,” and then disappointment.
I’m reacting to just the icon of the lips in the flame/hair. If the goal of including Marianne as a representation of historic French women, how can they ignore the powerful visuals so many of us can conjure up? The painting La Revolucion, women like Joan of Arc, represented through film and the history of French feminism? It is like they are reminding us that Paris hosted the first women in the Olympics of 1900 but, “Gee, wasn’t that cute?”
Why is this logo distilled down to a flirty hairstyle? For women athletes, I feel even more empathy for the struggles they face with equality and being taken seriously, especially on this, a global stage. It indeed can be observed as a step back in time in the representations of women as a trivialization.
JP Gomez, svp and head of design, Terri & Sandy
I was confused by the logo. It took me a few minutes to realize the shape was a flame. My first reaction was, “Is this for a beauty brand sponsoring the Olympics?” The design skews female with the hair and lips shape. It lacks energy, and the color makes it feel very passive. The typography is fun. It has movement and a very Parisian feel.
Roger Bova, svp, head of design, Deutsch New York
I’ll give the selection committee credit for trying something other than the Eiffel Tower, and I believe Art Nouveau is a great space to be in. However, the games are a global marker of a specific time in world history (and a city!), and I believe it needs to express that gravitas. The type does the trick, but the mark’s playful Rorschach flame-and-face dance seems beneath the station of the Olympic Games.
Chris Williams, associate design director, Decoded
In 2019, a logo shouldn’t be trying to represent corporate brand pillars; the mark should be the culmination of a vibrant design system that builds a memorable identity for a brand. At its core, Paris’ approach is a misdirect. Even if we excuse the approach, none of the three concepts making up the mark are particularly strong conceptual symbols.
Torch/flame: OK, an Olympic classic.
Gold medal: Sure, but not really bringing much in the way of perspective.
Marianne: This is the central concept, but unfortunately, this too falls flat—neither representing France nor the Games well.
This year has been extraordinary for women in marketing, both in and behind the ads. But using this “21st century Marianne” feels at best a cliche, at worst a sexist objectification of a French woman. So now a caricature of the traditional high art French personification of Liberty and Equality is the mascot of the Olympics?
Drew Wallace, creative director, Motive
To use a Marianne as the inspiration for the Paris-based Olympics is smart for France to do, as it is expected. Its execution, however, is cheap.
The juvenile and otherwise unrefined depiction of the rather complex and historical figure is mirrored only by the elementary flame she’s carved from. It’s unclear if this is communicating liberty or strength—as the Marianne suggests—or is celebrating the female athlete. It feels feminine without purpose. It’ll be interesting to see if female athletes will identify with it as women or reject it as athletes.
Finally, there seems to be no expression of what the global event stands for, or that it’s an event at all. Perhaps its only saving quality is the distinct and well-done Art Deco typography—a style that originated in France.
Rob Kottkamp, CCO, Partners + Napier
Clearly, a lot of thought and insight went into this, but they went too far down the conceptual rabbit hole to the extent that the mark requires an explanation to be understood. I also do not get the spirit of sports when I look at it. I see a flame and a woman, and the woman has been reduced down to her hair and lips. This comes across as tone-deaf, and if we’re trying to pay homage to Marianne—I don’t think this effectively does that. That said, I do love the typeface. It embodies art nouveau design culture, and I wish some of that would have come together a bit more in the overall identity design.