When the Official Olympic London 2012 logo was revealed it received a lot of negative response from the public and professionals. In a BBC poll 80% of the public gave the logo the lowest possible rating. Typeface designer, Tobias Frere-Jones, commented on the 200% website about the lettering for the word ‘london’: “I do wonder why the capital ‘L’ was left out of ‘London’ – I can’t see a logical reason for the decision; maybe it was meant to convey something youthful and approachable. Whatever the explanation, to me, it comes across as juvenile and disrespectful to the host city.”
The logo, as commissioned by the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG), was created by the design agency Wolff Olins which might be the reason why the designer Vaughan Oliver, suggests why the committee didn’t invite graphic designers, but artists, to design the Olympic Posters.
The Graphic Design community was not amused by their exclusion which led to Vaughan Oliver and Jonathan Barnbrook approaching their designer colleagues to produce alternative London 2012 Olympics Inspired Posters. An illustrious list of British-based designers, including Ian Anderson, Neville Brody, David Pearson, Angus Hyland and Bibliotheque, responded positively at receiving the invitation. The result is currently showing at ‘FIT’, an exhibition on display at Central St. Martins in London. 200% spoke with Oliver about the project and his own contributions.
200%: What do you consider to be the reason why the graphic design community was not afforded the opportunity to design the 2012 Olympics Posters, being specifically excluded from the Olympics by LOCOG?
Vaughan Oliver: I can only guess. I don’t know whether the role of graphic design was even discussed. I don’t know whether the Committee understands a creative graphic designer’s role. Maybe they [LOCOG] were thoroughly disappointed and shocked by the public and professional response to the Official Olympic logo so didn’t want to go anywhere near another graphic designer. 
200%: By not inviting Graphic Designers to design an Olympics poster, does it say something as to how Graphic Design is respected in the UK? 
VO: Graphic design is well respected in the UK but we are poor in relation to Fine Art, Product design and Architecture. In my opinion, we lead the world in creative graphic design.
200%: A lot of Graphic Designers responded with a contribution to your request. Were they, like you and Jonathan, as disappointed that Graphic Design was not given a platform in the 2012 Olympics?
VO: Of course. It has been a topic of conversation since the decision was made to commission artists, with most designers responding positively within two or three hours of receiving the invitation.
We are very grateful to these contributors for giving their time and talent for free. The range of responses varied from the lyrical, visually poetic to sharp typographic wit. Including a fair smattering of irreverence as the British way. We were also very lucky to have Central Saint Martins involved in hosting the show and financing the printing. We intend to offer the posters for sale with any profits being used to set up a bursary for future students at the college – details on this are still being finalized.
200%: You contributed two posters yourself. What was on your mind?
VA: There are two personal contributions. ‘New Gold Dream’with Marc Atkins, which tries to capture the pain and the pleasure of athletic endeavour. Is the expression one of orgasmic success or exhausted failure? ‘Horse 23’ with Si Scott – about avoiding gender and colour and event issues as the horse is symbolic of elegance and strength, rearing in glorious splendour.
In both posters I worked with image, calligraphy (cropping the word Olympic) and the list of Olympic events as laid out in a table. I like the contrast of lyrical image and expressive calligraphy with controlled information graphics – critical tensions.
200%: By the way, who coined the name FIT?
VO: Jonathan. Stupid title.
Written by Thierry Somers. Posters (from top to bottom): David Pearson, Bibliotheque, Jonathan Barnbrook (‘Velodrome’), Vaughan Oliver (first poster ‘New Gold Dream’), Vaughan Oliver, Build, Neville Brody.
FIT is at the Lethaby Gallery, CSM, 1 Granary Square London N1C 4AA until July 9 and the Window Gallery, at the same location, until August 30.