Reaction to the design side of the London 2012 Olympics veered from overwhelming praise for elements such as Thomas Heatherwick’s Cauldron to hold the Olympic Flame, Antidote’s Team GB logo and Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony – to open criticism of Wolff Olins’ 2012 logo, Iris London’s mascots and Anish Kapoor’s Orbit tower. But has it presented a positive vision of British creative talent – and what does British even mean in this context?
Here leading British creatives across advertising, graphic design, visual effects and illustration – many of whom worked on official Olympic projects – offer contrasting views on whether the UK won Olympic glory in this field too.
NB: In terms of creativity, what meaning does ‘British’ have?
“The world has always looked to us as creative leaders. I truly think that. Be it music, arts, fashion or cinema, we are always pushing what it means to be individual.”
Pete Fowler, illustrator
“[The opening ceremony] was the most spectacular celebration of all sorts of British creativity. It reminded us all what an inventive nation we are, from the National Health Service, literature and music, all told in the most stunning visual narrative.”
Rosie Arnold, executive creative director at BBH and president of the D&AD
“It’s clear that inspiration can be taken from the local landscape as well as colours, shapes and forms that are in the environment you are surrounded by. For me living in London, those inspirations are totally diverse. That’s what British creativity is: diversity.”
Rob Longworth, creative director at The Church of London
“[Recently] Sir John Sorrell said that after [Shanghai World Expo 2010], which featured Thomas Heatherwick’s Dandelion Pavilion, a very senior member of the Chinese government came up to him and said, ‘We always thought Britain was very conservative, but now we see you are both modern and creative – how long have you been creative?’
“I think that sums it up – we are probably seen as very professional, but perhaps lacking flair.”
Simon Manchipp, creative director at SomeOne
“Eccentricity and creativity go hand-in-hand, especially for designers. Yet, creativity for British design is synonymous with the word innovation. You cannot have one without the other.”
Simon Norris, CEO, Nomensa
Adidas booked a series of cover wraps around London’s free Metro newspaper throughout the Olympics, featuring illustrations commissioned by The Church of London. The artworks were also available as limited-edition prints from Adidas’s London stores. Participating illustrators included Joshua Budich (top of this article), Ian Wright (above), Charles Williams, Tavis Coburn, Studio Von and Andrew Rae
NB: Has the Olympics been a good advert for British design and creativity?
“There has been a shocking lack of vision for the Olympics. The mascots [are] something a focus group would come up with. The TFL characters [are] ugly and disturbing. While I admire the craft of the BBC idents, I feel they are conceptually flawed: as someone on Twitter put it ‘the Channel 4 Paralympic idents make the BBC idents look like Chuggington’. The logo itself is the most successful element, having at least some uniqueness about it. It must be good – so many people hate it.” AM
“Definitely, I was very impressed with how the branding came together and the design of Team GB’s kit, I don’t think this would have gone unnoticed by the rest of the world either.”
Ciara Phelan, illustrator
“I can’t imagine it being a bad advert for anything at the moment. When someone shines a spotlight on you, it’s up to the individual to shine – I think the Olympics has been a fantastic platform from which to showcase the whole spectrum of British industries.”
Johanna Basford, illustrator
“A lot of people still don’t like the logo, but there’s a much bigger picture. When the dust has settled and people look back on the event as a whole, I would hope that the focus will move away from that one small piece of the puzzle and appreciation will be shown for the huge amount of excellent design that went into the games.”
Phil Cook, creative director at Mat Dolphin
“The Olympics mascots were a bit of a letdown as they seemed to be created by committee. Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony was brilliant and inspiring, and I think we were all relieved that he brought his unique vision and sense of humour to the event.” PF
“How much of it comes down to nationality, I don’t know. So much great work throughout the Olympics has been done by many agencies across the world. [It’s] a good advert for creativity all round.” RL
“In general I’d say yes. The main thing I’d have to point out was the Team GB performance kits designed by Stella McCartney. SomeOne did a great job with the Olympics Pictograms too. I’m still unsure about the 2012 logo and the mascots though.”
Sweaty Eskimo, illustrator and live artist
“The opening ceremony of Beijing showed what people could be made to do. London 2012 showed what people could be inspired to do. It’s a triumph for the arts.” SM
“Stunningly so. I was optimistically pessimistic about the Olympics, but I’m happy to eat my words. The whole event was brilliant. [It was a great advert for] my favourite British brand – the BBC, whose coverage was broadcasting perfection.”
Steve Price, creative director at Plan-B Studio
“Absolutely. It’s been a great showcase of what we can achieve and shows the world that we can host the biggest show on earth. It showcases all our talents across the industry and has created a memorable experience that the world can see. I’m incredibly lucky and proud to have been part of it.”
Will Case, creative director at Crystal CG