Design a series of pictograms and a signing system using those pictograms for the London Olympic Games in 2012

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MIT3221 Student No. 530031371

MIT3221 Graphics 1

Student No. 530031371

c:\users\computer\desktop\pictograms\png and jpeg file conversions for word\fencing.png

c:\users\computer\desktop\pictograms\png and jpeg file conversions for word\t-shirt.jpg

c:\users\computer\desktop\pictograms\png and jpeg file conversions for word\restaurant-waiter.png



Design a series of pictograms and a signing system using those pictograms for the London Olympic Games in 2012.



Pictograms are created for the purpose of communicating without language. The Olympic Games pictograms have made a significant contribution to the development of pictorial communication; they provided the initial incentive for the development of more widespread uses for sign systems in the 20th century. Since their inception in 1936 (or some would say Tokyo ’64), they have evolved to become highly stylised and refined representations of the sports that they represent. One highly respected design is Munich 1972 by Otl Aicher. Indeed this was used again at the subsequent Olympics in Montreal, avoiding the need to ‘reinvent the wheel’, though perhaps losing some of their own visual identity in the process. This system was consistent in its reuse of shapes and proportions, many people regard this as the benchmark for Olympic pictograms to date. Many of the ideas have been incorporated into subsequent designs (Abdullah & Hübner 3.1: 64-73).

The Olympics attracts visitors and huge television audiences from around the globe. Pictograms for individual sports must be free of international and cultural differences of interpretation, and communicate their message clearly and effectively in a self-explanatory manner. To this end, they should work well without resort to language or words. Some events are similar, or may have multiple disciplines, so extra care is needed to make these clear and unambiguous.

Set against this is the concept of ‘Brand London 2012’ and balancing the books. Like many sports the Olympics has become increasingly commercialised, attracting vast amounts of investment and sponsorship deals. On the one hand the pictograms are used on signs to direct visitors to the right locations, educating the public to the different sports in literature, in programs, tickets, and television to identify the sport. On the other hand, they are used in the custom marketing campaign of the brand; this might include T-Shirts and a whole host of other souvenirs. Sydney 2000 used the boomerang in its design, with obvious links to Australia’s culture, and no doubt its tourism industry. Athens similarly used elements of Ancient Greek civilization in its design. When considering brand and the properties of ideal pictograms together, the designer may have to consider a degree of compromise to create a memorable and marketable set of pictograms. Design may also have to complement the existing logo for the games.


Design Brief

Most Graphic Design projects are based on a Design Brief that sets out what needs to be achieved, and acts as a point of reference for important points to the designer (Airey, D). A basic hypothetical design brief can be used as the basis of this project:

  • Corporate Profile: London 2012 Organising Committee and the Olympic Delivery Authority

  • Existing Graphical Communication: London 2012 Logo, standard EU and UK transport signs

  • Message: Clearly identify the sport for each Olympic pictogram as standalone graphics without language

  • Target market: Very diverse demographic; multicultural visitors of all ages and lifestyles to the Olympic venues. Huge global multimedia audience.

  • Objectives: Design a series of pictograms and a signing system using those pictograms for the London 2012 Olympic Games. These are to be used primarily as direction signs for visitors using a wide variety of materials, but also in printed literature and multimedia (e.g. television and the internet). Secondary use for promotion of the Games and as souvenirs. Make the pictograms complement the existing logo to a degree.

The design brief might also include a timeline and budget.

Research & Brainstorming

London’s Olympic bid was based prominently on a plan for regeneration of a socially deprived area in the East End, though some events are also held elsewhere. The bid also highlighted the Olympics role in encouraging young people into sport.

The logo for London 2012 (Fig. 1) was unveiled in 2012 to a largely critical reception. The design is a quite abstract representation of the figures 2012, in four variations of bright colours and meant to appeal to the young. It has a modern, urban and almost graffiti feel about it; personally I didn’t recognise it as figures until it was pointed out. However, the urban, youthful feel is in keeping with the London bid, and the logo is designed to feature more dynamically in multimedia which we have yet to see.


Figure 1: 2012 Logo

The shapes don’t lend themselves to human form easily, though I did feel the use of angled shapes lends itself to complementing pictograms to the logo. The depth of the logo given by the background is too complex for pictograms, and different colours are likely to cause confusion. The traditional black and white is clearest for signs as regards visibility (highest contrast between figure and ground).

London 2012 pictograms were released in October 2007, with two very different designs. The first was based on standard silhouettes, the second was a more dynamic design based on the London Underground map. The latter is therefore highly coloured, and a little complicated. These pictograms are to be used in a novel combination with coloured road lines as navigation.

Mindmapping was relatively straightforward given that there are 38 set disciplines (though some new ones); it was just a matter of thinking of the associations for each sport. Many of these have been well represented at previous Olympics, often with subsequent redesigns of what is considered to work well.


I began by sketching a design based on using similar shapes to the logo, using the logo’s representation of the figure ‘0’ as the basis for the head. It became clear that this would prove difficult to put into practice without compromising heavily on meaning, and looking disordered. Repeating elements would also prove difficult. I then sketched angulated shapes to a more anatomical format, drawing inspiration from the Munich ’72 and Los Angeles ’84 designs. These used the same shapes repeatedly, in the manner similar to using an alphabet, like many successful sign systems. I decided to draw up a template of basic shapes for the human form along these lines.

My colour choice was black and white for the high contrast and visibility along the lines of previous Olympics. Positive images (black on white) are sometimes considered easier to read than negative or ‘reversed’ (white on black) images. Black on white is also considered better for lighted conditions (the reverse is true for non-lighted conditions). People arriving at events and looking for directions will most likely be doing so in the daylight conditions of summer. However, the choice of colour for signs and other uses is likely to change depending on the context of the sign.

Design Template


Figure 2

Many pictograms of previous Olympics (e.g. Los Angeles, Seoul) have been built on building blocks of body parts that maintain their size and proportions across designs. My aim with the design template (Fig. 2) was to set out the bare components for the human figure in a similar way and also allow some flexibility. I decided to omit the trunk of the body trunk in a similar fashion to the designs of Barcelona ’92 and Sydney 2000. Omitting this allows more flexibility in body posture (e.g. squatting versus running) without the need to compromise in design on the position of the trunk. Viewers ‘fill in’ the gaps in the image according to principles of Gestalt (Eysenck & Keane 2:26-30).

Setting out an array of the key positions required for arms and legs makes it relatively easy for another designer to construct new pictograms. This again helps in maintaining consistency in size of the body parts across the designs as the proportions of the figure have essentially been preset. Objects can be rotated as necessary by the designer to fit any new posture; I found better results could be obtained visually on the diagonals than using a rigorously enforced scheme. I incorporated proximal diagonals on all limbs to signify joints hip and shoulder joints, and length was adjusted for the degree of angulations of limbs. Apparatus should then be added proportionately. I also included a ripple effect (water) as this is another feature that is repeated commonly in Olympic pictograms.

The template is 12x12; the pictogram is contained with an 8x8 grid so that there is protective area outside. The inner protective layer has been left outside the main grid as I wanted some pictograms to blend with the edges. I used cm though the scalable nature of vector graphics means it is the proportions that are important. A similar 16x12 grid was constructed to incorporate directional signals (Fig. 3).


Figure 3

The Pictograms

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Figure 4

Equestrian (Fig. 4) Angled shapes don’t lend themselves well to the graceful curves of a horse. I therefore limited the design to a representation of the head.

c:\users\computer\desktop\pictograms\png files\pentathlon.png

Figure 5

Modern Pentathlon (Fig. 5) Multi-event pictograms often are presented as a compromise on showing all the events. There has been a tendency to represent the pentathlon with a single event (usually equestrian) and five symbols in many Olympics. London 2012 has used a compound pictogram of the 5 sports incorporated into a complicated design resembling the evolution of man. Though an elegant design it does not fit with the other pictograms, or fit with the values of an ideal pictogram. In the interests of maintaining consistency and simplicity I used the equestrian design with a 5 star symbol, the stars having 5 points to reinforce the message of 5 events (lacks motivation however, discussed later)

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Figure 6

Weightlifting (Fig. 6) Not including a standardised trunk can help in the design process; the empty space being reduced in this figure as a representation of squatting

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Figure 7

Fencing (Fig. 7) The vertical cut out of the head has been much used to represent the mask of fencing.

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Figure 8

Rowing (Fig. 8)

The representation of waves is used to subtract from the straightforward rectangle of the boat in this design. Merging with the edges adds depth and could be perceived as being part of a pairs, 4’s or 8’s competition.

c:\users\computer\desktop\pictograms\png files\running.png

Figure 9

Running (Fig. 9) The simplest of the designs, similar to those of running in standard signs such as Fire Escape. The meaning here is reinforced in the context of the set of Olympic pictograms.

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Figure 10

Athletics (Fig. 10) Traditionally the general representation of athletics has been an athlete at the starting blocks of the 100m

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Figure 11

Football (Fig. 11) Otl Aichers Munich 1972 representation of a footballer is highly regarded, and has been used at subsequent Olympics and at football tournaments. Compared to most other pictograms it is quite dynamic with a sense of depth.

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Figure 12

Diving (Fig. 12) Waves representation using the pen tool

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Figure 13

Shooting (Fig. 13) Pistol representation (could also use a rifle).

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Figure 14

Karate (Fig. 14) This is another design that has been fairly standardised over the years

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Figure 15

Boxing (Fig. 15) Some objects can be reused where possible; the boxing gloves are simply a scaling down of the head.

Pictograms as Signs

Pictograms are incorporated into a wide variety of materials to act as signs; this might be large metallic or plastic signs, to smaller sizes on doors or bollards. Perhaps most importantly they are used as direction signs at the venues, most probably on plastic. Figure 16 shows a variety of standard signs for directions based on a scheme similar to the traffic sign system of arrows. Signs used in this way may need to have colour coordination e.g. a background of green as used in some road signs. In such a case the pictogram and arrow directions may need to be changed to compensate (e.g. white). Not all signs are built to the same specification, it may be important to adjust the sign to fit the space, in which case the arrow direction can be separated out and placed accordingly. Some pictograms might be reversed depending on the direction of movement (Gestalt principles of common fate and good continuation). An example is included below:

c:\users\computer\desktop\pictograms\direction finding\directions-bearright.pngc:\users\computer\desktop\pictograms\direction finding\directions-turnright.png

c:\users\computer\desktop\pictograms\direction finding\directions-straighton.png

c:\users\computer\desktop\pictograms\direction finding\directions-turn-left.pngc:\users\computer\desktop\pictograms\direction finding\directions-turnleft.png

Figure 16 Pictograms in Direction Signs.

From top left: Bear Right, Turn Right, Straight On, Turn Left (Standard), Turn Left (Reversed)

Pictograms & Typography

Typography should be designed to conform to basic principles of contrast, repetition, alignment and proximity (Williams, R 1:13). Typographical styles have their own distinct signifieds and readability. I selected sans serif for its simple clarity, availability, authority and readability in different environments. Sans serif fonts are considered the standard for signs, and for their readability on-screen in multimedia environments (Walsh, J). There is some evidence that sans serif fonts are also better for using at small sizes as regards legibility. Experimenting with text (Fig. 17) I thought Arial rounded worked well but was perhaps not suited to geometric shapes. I found that Arial Bold worked well if I adjusted the tracking up. Capitalization increases authority of text but becomes harder to read with longer names, so I selected mixed case, with black on white again for contrast and harmony with the pictogram.


Figure 17 - Experimenting With Text

Most names could be incorporated into one line easily, Modern Pentathlon required two and is therefore somewhat out of harmony. Within the context of the 8x8 cm grid I used, the size was 48pt with tracking increased to +20. Type can be grouped with the pictogram and scaled in proportion. An example with text is illustrated in Figure 18:


Figure 18 – Pictogram with Text

Other Designs & Uses


Figure 19

Multimedia (Fig. 19) Text and pictograms in multimedia (TV, and increasingly the internet) are usually white for visibility, often incorporated into a banner. I therefore reversed the colours for this pictogram and used a more neutral colour for a more subtle effect onscreen. Text might better be incorporated into a banner (e.g. white on blue), but is likely to be incorporated into the various multimedia designs separately.


Figure 20

Restaurant (Fig. 20) The template can be used to construct other signs for the Games. Restaurants are most often represented in the West as a knife and fork. Given the cultural constraints (e.g. chopsticks representations for China) I made this sign into the figure of a waiter and changed the colour to white against blue. Blue is the neutral colour most often associated with information signs.


Figure 21

Running Prohibited (Fig. 21) Most safety signs are incorporated into European Safety Regulations. A ‘No Running’ sign might be a useful addition for the Olympics given the stampedes that can occur for tickets, places and so on. The pictogram is the same as that used for athletics running, incorporated into a standard red crossed circle.


Figure 22

Leisure/Picnic Area (Fig. 22) Angled shapes can be made to resemble more complicated figures, this example using the Pen Tool. The nature colour of green is used to complement the message, though the earthy brown similar to tourist signs could equally have been used. The colour could also be incorporated into the blue of information signs.


Figure 23

Refreshments (Fig. 23) Simple angled contours again using the pen tool, white figure and information blue.


Figure 24

Souvenirs (Fig. 24) The different colours of the logo can be incorporated with pictograms to create items that are more visually attractive


Figure 25 shows a pictogram in use on a signpost, the direction was switched to white for this example.


Figure 25 Sign-in-situ

Figure 26 is an example of how a pictogram might be appear in multimedia, (text is better incorporated into a banner given changes in background).


Figure 26 Multimedia Use


A pictogram project such as this is usually presented by one designer, though feedback and testing is essential to make sure the pictograms work. Ideally testing would look for differences based on factors such as age, culture, gender and social class. Sufficient numbers need to be tested to check for statistical significance
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