An Olympic feat … er, font

This weekend saw the start of the 30th Olympiad, and a certain pink geometrical symbol has actually been noticed in our house, rather than being in the background. You know the one. It looks like a geometry test. It’s been lampooned in some fairly rude ways. Someone in our house said, ‘Does that say “ZOR”?’ It’s the Olympic logo.

I didn’t really pay attention to all the kerfuffle about it when it was released in 2007, and, living half a world away from London as I do, it’s been quite easy to ignore it ever since. But now it’s everywhere, and I was forced to see the font that had been used for the word ‘london’ embedded in the top ‘2’ of the logo.

I am interested in logos, because they’re such good examples of how instantly you can communicate something to your audience. Every time I see this one I’m impressed at how they managed to use petals to make a loveheart and a medicine capsule. It’s simple, but effective.

But I’m more interested in fonts, because my work is text, and people have to stay with a font much longer than they have to stay with a logo. A logo may annoy or delight you, but it will not make you throw down a document in despair at how the type creator impeded your access to the content you were trying to read.

Which brings me back to the Olympic font. It was created by Gareth Hague, of Alias, and it was based on their Klute font. It is ‘intended to convey energy and dynamism’, and despite being called ‘2012 Headline’ the London 2012 Education website says it is ‘used for all communications and key messages’. This seems to be bad communication to start with, as there is ample information out there about how different fonts are required for the different purposes of headlines versus blocks of text. To be fair, I haven’t yet seen any text longer than a few words in this font – but then I haven’t looked. It would be too difficult to read and I’d just turn away.

Simon Garfield, author of Just My Type, had it in his list of 8 worst fonts and was horrified by it, saying in 2011 that it ‘is based on jaggedness and crudeness … the slant to the letters is suddenly interrupted by a very round and upright “o”, which may be trying to be an Olympic ring’. He admitted its advantage is how easily recognisable it is, but he was hoping they’d keep it off the medals. He’ll be pleased to see that the medal font is nothing like 2012 Headline, although he might have something to say about all that criss-crossing.

But what of the font for the next Olympics? Now there’s a beautiful thing. This one manages to be friendly without being twee, and is evocative of the fluid movements common to many sports. Created by Dalton Maag, who have offices in London and in Brazil, it has a ‘unique informality, inspired by the joyfulness of the Brazilian people.’ Paixão e transformação, indeed.

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