Let the design games begin
Every four years, history is made. And I'm not talking about the U.S. presidential elections. I'm talking about the Summer Olympic Games. (And if you count the Winter Games, design history is made twice as often.)
Ever since my parents took me to the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta as a kid, I’ve been a big advocate for the games. I remember falling in love with collecting commemorative Olympic pins (which I proudly still have and continue to collect, by the way) and trading them with other games-goers on MARTA. I fondly remember playing in Centennial Olympic Park with my siblings, learning what the Olympic rings stand for and putting together a scrapbook with my mom afterward.
But, I don’t think I can honestly say that I love the Olympics for its athletic competition. While you glue your eyes to NBC to watch Michael Phelps and Hope Solo compete for Team USA gold medals at London 2012, I’ll be on the lookout for gold-medal design. The games are not only a showcase of the best athletic talent in the world, it’s a chance for both the host country and the competing teams to show off their best creations and designers. It’s the World’s Fair for design, as athletes and designers alike open this new chapter in Olympic history.
Historic logos: The logos designed for each Olympics are perhaps one of most telling parts of graphic design history. Look through all the logos and it’s easy to spot remnants of time’s passing. Pen and ink, watercolor, computer vectors. Serifs, scripts, sans serifs. Modernism, postmodernism, the 80s. Whether or not you’re a fan of the much contested 2012 logo (Zion, anyone?), take solace that, with this brand, history has been made, and we can only do better in Sochi 2014, Rio de Janeiro 2016 and beyond.
Telling torches: Each Olympic Games has its own torch. The history of the torch dates back to ancient times, and the relay, which began in 1936, has brought the best and brightest (pun intended) industrial design to thousands of communities throughout the ages, evolving from classical to curvy in form.
Sporty style: Colorful leotards, Speedos, jerseys, running shoes and scrunchies will abound at this year’s games, as will patriotic attire at tonight’s opening ceremony — Olympian haut couture. Though, as Americans, we’re more inclined to keep an eye out for our own red, white and blue, keep an eye out for the best and worst uniforms from around the world, literally. And, of course, the 2012 equivalent of Michael Johnson’s gold Nikes. British brands, too, are taking to the streets for their own competitions. (Perhaps Team USA will land place last for donning China-made Ralph Lauren at the opening ceremony?)
Stately architecture: With each set of games, the host country will show off its architectural talent. Though my favorite may always be Beijing 2008′s Bird’s Nest, I will definitely enjoy seeing footage and photos of the new Olympic facilities in London. Though fashions and torches evolve, these sites are the permanent fixtures of Olympic history, with many of them still standing, though many are little more than tourist attractions, as exhibited by the Kickstarter project The Olympic City, whose creators aim to document host cities long after the torch has been extinguished.
Visual data: Because I can’t afford the tickets or the time off, I’ll be keeping track of much of the Olympics from my desk at work, relying on user-generated content on Twitter and Tumblr. Infographics and interactive content (not to mention Google Doodles) will only continue to pop up over the next couple of weeks.
Gold medal memorabilia: While the winning athletes get to keep their official 2012 medals, other kinds of Olympic design are available, too, like official and unofficial commemorative posters. And, unlike in ancient times, you can buy your hats, lanyards and picture frames (really?) online. Weird-looking mascot stuffed toys, too. Oh, and yes, I will be buying an official 2012 commemorative pin (or two or three) for my collection.
Thankfully, after the torch has been extinguished, we only have to wait a year and a half for the next winter design games.