The Olympic Games is a major international event featuring summer and winter sports, in which thousands of athletes participate in a variety of competitions. The Olympic Games are considered to be the world’s foremost sports competition and more than 200 nations participate. The Games are currently held every two years, with Summer and Winter Olympic Games alternating, although they occur every four years within their respective seasonal games.

Originally, the ancient Olympic Games were held in Olympia, Greece, from the 8th century BC to the 4th century AD. Baron Pierre de Coubertin founded the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 1894. The IOC has since become the governing body of the Olympic Movement, whose structure and actions are defined by the Olympic Charter. This is a review of how the logo started being used in the Olympic games and how it developed and changed. The logo was influenced by events and changes in the world, which became incorporated into the design.

1896 Athens Olympics

Primary Logo (1896)

“Multiple elements tying the ancient Olympic games to the modern Olympics.”

It is obvious that what is generally considered to be included in logo design at the present time is not presented in this layout. This design is akin to illustrating a book cover, telling a whole story. There is one tone color and very fine elaborated details in the design.

1904 St. Louis Olympics

Primary Logo (1904)

“Poster depicting the Worlds Fair, during which the Olympic events were held.”

The colors get brighter, and this is the first year that the color red was featured in the Olympic logo design. Since then, red has become one of the most popular colors to be used in future Olympic logos.

1908 London Olympics

Primary Logo (1908)

“A high jumper in between the gates of the Olympic Stadium in London.”

The logo designs are starting to shift in focus, getting narrower in presentation.  Instead of telling the full story or showing every event, a single event or a main object is presented.

1912 Stockholm Olympics

Primary Logo (1912)

“Many national flags waving in a circle, representing the opening ceremonies.”

Until 1912 the color pallet was limited to warm and earthy tones.

Beginning in 1912, we can see brighter, flatter, solid colors appearing. Symbolism and icons also began finding their way into the design.  Typography is also starting to be taken into consideration within the design layout.

It is interesting to note that during this time in Europe, the modern art movement was taking shape. This movement included great painters such as Picasso, Kandinsky, and more. However, we see little of their influence in the Olympic logo design.

1916 Summer Olympics

The  1916 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the VI Olympiad, were scheduled to be held in Berlin, Germany, but were eventually cancelled due to the outbreak of World War I.

1920 Antwerp Olympics

Primary Logo (1920)

“A discus thrower in front of the flags of the competing nations.”

We see similar approach as 1912 here again.

1924 Paris Olympics

Primary Logo (1924)

“A boat on a coat of arms with Olympic script.”

This design heralded a new approach.  The creation of the entire logo in an icon format was a big step forward. There is no standard poster or page layout.  There are no colors, shapes have become much simpler, and everything is presented in a line art format. It will be a couple of years until colors are brought back into play.  The title is removed from the icon (a bold move) and is placed on the top of the emblem.  It is assumed that the influence of the modern art movement was incorporated little by little into designs of the period.

1928 Amsterdam Olympics

Primary Logo (1928)

“A runner in action holding a laurel branch, symbolizing victory”

Color has returned to this design.  The background is almost a solid blue, and there is less detail on the athlete presented.

1932 Los Angeles Olympics

Primary Logo (1932)

“A stars and stripes shield.”

In the 1932 US logo, the movement that started to appear in the last two Olympics logo designs continues. Every element in the design becomes iconic. This is the first appearance of the Olympic rings in the logo as well.

There are many basic design flaws within the logo. All of the textures clash on top of each other, so much so that the designer had to place white boxes around the text to separate it from the background. The busy format of the logo dissuaded anyone from reading the text.

Even though this design has many issues, and can be considered as one of the weakest Olympic logos; in terms of moving the design forward this logo is remarkable.

1936 Berlin Olympics

Primary Logo (1936)

“A bell with an eagle on it.”

The presence of World War II is felt strongly in the logo from 1936.  Nothing is presented to give the feeling of a happy sporting event.  The use of line art design, absence of colors, and the eagle and bell give a sense of a sad and dead environment.

1948 London Olympics

Primary Logo (1948)

“Big Ben with the Olympic rings in front of it. “

This is the first games held after WWII.  While black and white still dominates the logo, the design is much more polished. The shapes and forms are coordinated much better, and the Olympic rings become more dominant in the design.

1952 Helsinki Olympics

Primary Logo (1952)

“A building inside a blue rectangle.”

The 1952 Helsinki and 1956 Melbourne logos continued the trend of using a one-color design. The Olympic logo circles are featured on top of buildings, which is the city symbol in 1952.  There is less detail used in this design than in the 1948 London design.  The designers also started to reintroduce color into the logo in a very conservative way.

1956 Melbourne Olympics

Primary Logo (1956)

“An Olympic torch inside a green oval on a map.”

1960 Rome Olympics

Primary Logo (1960)

“An ancient animal standing above MCMLX, the roman numeral for 1960.”

This is the first and only time an animal has been used in the Olympic logo. The design has reverted back to black and white. In general this approach has evolved differently from the direction taken in previous years.

1964 Tokyo Olympics

Primary Logo (1964)

“The Japanese rising sun above the Olympic rings in gold.”

A beautiful logo utilizing minimal symbols and very effective graphical design. The red circle is not only the symbol of the country, but is also a great focal point.  This logo still shines compared to previous and future Olympic logo designs.

1968 Mexico City Olympics

Primary Logo (1968)

“Mexico 68 in split-grey lettering.”

A different selection of fonts from the older logos starts to appear with this logo.  Stylistically, the placement of the Olympic ring logo appearing above the year is questionable, as it is difficult to read the year 68.

1972 Munich Olympics

Primary Logo (1972)

“A blue and white spiral below the Olympic rings.”

This year recalls previous Olympic logo designs. Light blue reappears as the main color as it did in the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics . There is a very similar approach in layout to the 1964 Tokyo design. The spiral shape utilized in the logo has nice dimensions and visual movement.

1976 Montreal Olympics

Primary Logo (1976)

“The Olympic rings in red with a red ‘M’ incorporated above it.”

This Olympic logo features another strong design.  The use of the letter “M” for Montreal on top of the 5 Olympic rings is very creative, as it appears everything is woven together.  This logo is sure to be included in a hall of fame of Olympic logo designs.

1980 Moscow Olympics

Primary Logo (1980)

“Six red stripes forming a peak pointing to a star.”

This layout is not as strong as the 1976 Montreal design, even though there are some similarities.  The star is a domino symbol which is designed to represent Moscow.

1984 Los Angeles Olympics

Primary Logo (1984)

“A blue, white and red star above the rings.”

This is a great improvement from the last Olympic logo that was used in the US logo from 1932. This logo incorporates simplicity, symbols of the host country and a very creative design. The placement of the United States flag in the logo is very patriotic.

1988 Seoul Olympics

Primary Logo (1988)

“Three blue, red and gold swirls above the rings.”

The placement and size of the Olympic rings are similar to the ones utilized in the 1984 Los Angeles games. The abstract format of the swirls and sense of movement is incorporated well into the logo design.

1992 Barcelona Olympics

Primary Logo (1992)

“Blue, yellow and red lines to form a gymnastic routine.”

The 1992 Barcelona logo continues the template of the previous years: keeping the rings in the lower part and a motif on top. The abstract form could be a gymnastic routine or even a trace of Spanish bullfighting which nicely reflects the host country.

1996 Atlanta Olympics

Primary Logo (1996)

“A torch with a ‘100’ underneath with a flame and stars.”

The 1996 Atlanta design is focused on the history of the Olympic games.  The transition of the flames into the stars is smoothly done.

2000 Sydney Olympics

Primary Logo (2000)

“An abstract man holding a banner shaped like the Sydney Opera House, and a boomerang.”

There is a new utilization of fonts for this design.  The Sydney Opera House, which is the symbol of Sydney is incorporated clearly.  This design uses a similar approach to the 1992 Barcelona games.

2004 Athens Olympics

Primary Logo (2004)

“An olive wreath in the national colors of Greece.”

This logo features a textured blue background with a more modern take on the symbolic olive wreath.  There is obviously effort being taken to distinguish this design from the one seen previously: utilizing freestyle elements in the background as well as introducing painting style textures.  Additionally, a background color has not been incorporated since the 1952 Helsinki games.  However, the unnecessarily large trademark symbol draws attention away from the design.

2008 Beijing Olympics

Primary Logo (2008)

“A dancing man, based on the Chinese character for ‘capital.’”

The character presented in this logo could represent a sportsman, a runner, a gymnast or a Chinese dancer.  The font selection is also very clever, as it has some resemblance to the Chinese characters.

2012 London Olympics

Primary Logo (2012)

“The container and main shape is 2012.”

The presentation of the numbers in the design is meant to appeal to today’s Internet generation.  The chairman of London’s 2012 organizing committee said “It is an invitation to take part and be involved.”  Stylistically this logo is not as strong as previous years; this has been discussed at length in the design community.

This design is based on appealing to the current internet generation, as seen by the presentation of the numbers.

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Posted by Saya Behnam

Saya Behnam is a graphic, web designer, mixed media artist and an entrepreneur for more than 10 years. She lives in US and runs her design studio. She provides graphic and web design articles & tutorials in her blog, follow her on twitter @saya4.

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