Making Sense of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Logo


The revealing of an Olympic logo is always a mixture of excitement and disappointment. The same was true with the Tokyo 2020 logo on July 24th. Some people loved it. Some people hated it. And some even said it was plagiarized.


Olympic logos are fairly peculiar branding efforts. It will be seen by billions of people, but only for about two weeks. It seems, therefore, that “making a big splash” is the far more likely goal of city Olympic committees in deciding what elements to feature in a logo. Besides, an Olympic logo does not really need to be timeless in the sense that many other logos attempt to be. In fact, an Olympic logos are probably more useful as providing a glimpse into the thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams of a particular time. So why hold back in being faddish.

This is not to say the most recent Olympic logo is faddish, but should certainly not be viewed as attempting to make a timeless statement of any sort. It is a statement for now. And this one certainly accomplishes that. It is quite divergent from the last 20 years of Olympic logos. For one, it has a complete reduction of color, using black to celebrate what has, for decades, been an ornately colorful event. The last time something so graphically shocking happened was Mexico’s 1968 logo. Mexico’s logo was originally completely black and white, but later added color to reduce its starkness.


Then there is the complete lack of anything organic, which is another major departure from recent logos. From Beijing’s running man, to London’s jittery funk, recent logo’s have tried to project movement. Tokyo’s logo eschews all of this for basic geometric forms.

One of the geometric elements also happens to be red dot, which can certainly be an allusion to Japanese heritage, culture and design. Though the designer himself says it is actually meant to represent “the power of every beating heart.” Even if this were the design intention, the designer is not so naïve as to not be aware of the alternative connotations that such a symbol will invoke. While certainly the games are meant to be international, why run from the national element completely? The games do not happen in the same place very often, so why not give the world a bit of your national design culture along with the design trends of the time? Olympic logos at their best are time capsules.

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