Nostalgia can be important for the designer wanting to make emotional connections with a sporting audience. Illustrator Zoran Lucic’s self-initiated Sucker for Soccer series, which features iconic past footballers alongside current favourites, harks back to what might be deemed a halcyon era in the game’s history.

“Maradona, Cantona and George Best are such three-dimensional characters,” Zoran says. “Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi may be goal-scoring machines, but there’s not the same romance there, no charisma or poetry. Nostalgia can be a great thing, taking us to the essence of the sporting spirit.”

An edgy graphic-novel style characterises Studio AKA’s animation for BBC Sport’s Winter Olympics coverage

Drama and a sense of wider national culture were also captured in the animation by Studio AKA (studioaka.co.uk) to promote BBC Sport’s coverage of the 2010 winter Olympics in Vancouver. Heavily inspired by black-and-white graphic novel-style imagery, the atmospheric title sequence captures the primal exhilaration of the games in a more abstract fashion. The folktale-inspired story follows an Inuit warrior who sets out to reclaim a magical stone stolen from his village by an evil spirit. En route he encounters challenges which he overcomes by resorting to different winter sports each time.

“It featured a quest, a goal to be reached against the odds, and with the successful completion of the quest the restoration of light to the world,” says Studio AKA director Marc Craste. “So as a metaphor it was pretty solid. Our job was to realise it in a dramatic and exciting way. With both the staging and editing we tried to eke out as much excitement as we could from each individual sport.”

Zoran Lucic’s illustrated posters invoke nostalgia for a supposedly golden era in football’s recent past

The sequence was modelled and animated in CG, then rendered flat to give it the graphic look the studio was after. Having a black-and-white character in a black-and-white world meant close attention had to be given to the layout to prevent him simply disappearing, Marc says.

Portraying sport in this abstract way needs that extra care. “Your audience will comprise a lot of serious fans,” Marc says. “Whatever limitations you might face in bringing that sport to life with animation, you had better more than compensate for with some fabulous imagery, thrilling editing, or over-the-top drama or comedy.

“Otherwise people will wonder why the sport itself wasn’t used.”

Of course sport isn’t just about the athletes. Any creative project worth its sweat needs to reflect the contribution of the fans.

These Olympics posters, created by Alan Clarke as part of his degree work, make reference to London’s transport network in their use of Johnston, the classic Tube map typeface

Pride of a nation

At the time of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the importance of national pride was captured in the Chinese ‘Sports Nation’ campaign for Adidas by TBWA (tbwa.com). It aimed to connect with the Chinese consumer by depicting the athletes being lifted to victory by a mass of interlocking supporters.

“We showed monochrome animated people – the nation – providing support for real, filmed, colour athletes,” says Ian Thubron, president of TBWA Greater China. “The importance of ordinary people’s role in their team’s success was echoed in the execution. The entire tone was warm, inclusive, collaborative, a mile away from the normal chest-thumping ‘success at all costs’ [ethic] of competitors.”

But whatever the subject matter, Rosie Lee’s Russell Clayton says the best way for designers to capture the energy and drama of sport is to think of each static image as a still from a film. “Try to make the viewer build their own story about what has just happened and what is about to happen,” he advises.

“If there is nothing in your image that talks about drama or narrative, then no one will feel the energy or believe that it is real.”

Make It Count

Mo Farah, Mark Cavendish and Rio Ferdinand as captured by Adam Hinton

Photographer Adam Hinton was commissioned by Wieden+Kennedy to shoot a number of Olympic athletes for Nike’s Make It Count campaign. The brief was to capture the athletes ‘through the lens of the sport’, and Hinton joined Olympians on a training session to photograph them in black and white at the peak of their workout.

“I wanted to see them totally exerting themselves,” he says. “It’s not something you can fake, so we got them to really push themselves so it would really show in their expression.”

To focus on the striking imagery, the campaign made minimal use of text, including only motivational statements in the athletes’ handwriting, their twitter handle, the Make It Count hashtag and a small Nike logo.

Adam had previously photographed Cuban boxers, who stared expressionlessly into the camera as they emerged from the ring exhausted. It was an approach Wieden+Kennedy liked, and wanted to replicate for additional posters.

“We set up a white backdrop, used reflectors to get the right light, and got the athletes to enter the set when they were totally knackered and look straight into the lens,” he says.

Olympic pictograms

London agency SomeOne created pictograms for each Olympic and Paralympic sport – 57 in all – to be used for print and digital communications, wayfinding and merchandising. The pictograms were created by translating images from each discipline into icons, using a visual system inspired by the Wolff Olins London 2012 logo.

To bring motion and excitement to these static forms, SomeOne decided on a dual design approach. “We felt that the traditional solid pictogram was fine when used in pure information-led circumstances, but looked dull and lifeless when used large or on more exciting opportunities such as merchandise,” says creative director Simon Manchipp.

“The work [involved] the idea of a more inclusive games, where everyone is invited to join in. So we used lines that connected and extended beyond the symbols they illustrated.”

Keep your nose clean

Sport-led design work is bound to be a hit this summer, but link your work too closely to the Olympics or Euro 2012 and you’re likely to elicit unwelcome scrutiny from the organisers. Any commercial work, whether for a client or personal work for sale, cannot reference these items:

• The Olympic logos, rings, emblems, mascots and pictograms
• The words ‘London 2012’, ‘Olympic’, ‘Olympiad’, ‘Olympian’ or similar words such as ‘Olympix’ (and their Paralympic equivalents)
• The Olympic and Paralympic mottoes
• ‘UEFA’ and ‘Euro 2012’
• The EURO 2012 logo or slogans
• Images of the UEFA EURO trophy

SomeOne’s British Basketball Association work is more abstract than their Olympic pictograms