Faculty Insight

The 2018 Winter Olympic Games began on February 9 in PyeongChang, South Korea. Along with photographs of the gold, silver, and bronze Olympics medals and coverage of the athletes who will receive them, one image being seen repeatedly throughout the two-week event is the new Olympics emblem that was designed specifically for this year’s Games. Scott Santoro, Adjunct Professor of Communications Design at Pratt Institute and principal of the graphic design studio Worksight, discusses the thought process underlying this type of design and what makes a logo memorable.  

What are some of the considerations that go into the creation of an Olympics emblem? How do those differ from standard logo design?

An Olympics emblem must express meaning for where the event is being held, but also carry the spirit of the games. Its design must be durable because it will be scrutinized by the world for decades to come, but it must also be of the time, reflecting the zeitgeist on a global scale. But there’s an added task—an Olympics emblem must work with the “rings” logo as a kind of child under parental supervision, allowing the viewer to see a visual connection, yet be different—in other words, to hold its own. Quite a heavy set of tasks.

What does the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic emblem tell us about this year’s Olympic games and the country where they are being hosted?

The PyeongChang logo is peculiar because it doesn’t have the visual impact that one sees with marks from the past. I was challenged by it—to understand its meaning. I’m sure that most people don’t do that, but I design logos and really wanted to know. My research was rewarded with a full range of connections. First, the design by Ha Jong-joo draws from the Korean writing system, with each element forming the first consonant of each syllable in the word “PyeongChang” when written in Hanjul. Also, the square shape represents the meeting of heaven and earth (harmony); and the star shape represents a snowflake, but also has a stick-man quality (winter athletes). Combined with the five traditional colors from Korean culture, it reads as an unabashed pride Koreans have in opening their country to the world.

What are some of the more memorable Olympic logos? Why are they memorable and what can young designers learn from that? 

The 1968 Mexico Olympics design by Lance Wyman captured the spirit of the times. The logo connects to the kinetic aesthetics of Op Art, but also with the line patterns found in Mayan culture and traditional Mexican folk art. It also looks as if it’s part of the olympic rings family. The vibrating lines of the logo extended through a typeface created for that Olympics. Another is the 1964 Tokyo mark by Masaru Katsumi and Yusaku Kamekura, which was a simple red circle that sat above the olympic rings representing the Japan flag’s rising sun. This logo found its voice in a world that was embracing the clarity of Modernism, but today, it feels almost too simple, which is perfectly alright because timely trumps timeless in events that have a perishable date.