THE organisers of the London Olympics hired the firm that designed the much-derided logo for the 2012 Games without seeing any of its designs.

The selection committee, chaired by Lord Coe, made its decision after a competition that lasted 13 weeks but failed to ask any of the contenders to show them their proposed image.

Last week the logo, designed by Wolff Olins, a London branding agency, and approved by Tessa Jowell, the culture secretary, was launched to almost universal disdain.

It had no obvious sporting motif, nor did it have any visual connection to London. Stephen Bayley, founder of the Design Museum, described it as “hideous and puerile”, while another critic likened it to “alcopop-in-duced vomit”. An online petition to scrap the logo attracted 48,615 signatures within four days.

Branding industry insiders said this weekend that the tactic of hiring consultants “blind” was considered unusual and risky on a contract as valuable as the Olympic branding.

“It surprises me that on a brief this big the contenders were not asked to render their ideas before the contract was awarded,” said Paul Owen, creative director of Heavenly, a rival London brand agency. “The way the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games [Locog] have run the competition is not standard practice.”

Don Foster MP, Liberal Democrat spokesman for the Olympics, said: “It is very odd that Locog seems to have expected so little of the contenders.

“When you are spending around half a million pounds you would expect to have more than reputation to go on when making your decision. You should at least have an idea of the way they would design it.”

Chris Townsend, commercial director of Locog, said it would have cost too much for the contenders to produce rough designs. He said Wolff Olins could only be expected to produce a design once it had spent months absorbing the Games’ detailed brief.

He admitted that Locog did not put the contract out to open tender but asked four agencies to explain their approach when faced with two main requirements: to produce a brand “like never before” in Olympic history; and to “inspire the youth of the world”.

The failed contenders were Interbrand, Identica and Lambie Nairn, which designed the launch logo for Channel 4.

The brand was finally approved by the Olympic board of Jowell, Coe and Lord Moynihan, the chairman of the British Olympic Association. The fourth board member, Ken Livingstone, the mayor of London, is understood to have disliked the design, but he backed it at the launch last Monday.

“We ran this process as any professional blue chip company would, which means meeting the best agencies and selecting a small number to formally pitch,” said Townsend. “Developing creative work is very costly for agencies and clients”.

Brian Boylan, the chairman of Wolff Olins, already had close links to the culture department, which is overseeing the Olympics. Jowell appointed him as a commissioner of the government’s Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment and he is a member of the Tate Modern council.

Despite the hostile reaction to the logo, the organisers of 2012 have pledged to press ahead with a huge merchandising campaign. Unusually, one of the first ranges of merchandise to hit the shelves will be curtains, wall-paper, duvet covers and kitchen equipment. There will also be a casual fashion range of clothes and shoes in fabrics printed with the grafitti-inspired logo.

The Games organisers are now negotiating with sponsors and licensees with the aim of making the logo ubiquitous once the Beijing Olympics end next summer. They want the image to be adapted and incorporated into the design of spin-off products, as they seek to raise £2 billion to finance the running of the games. Their hope is to make at least £600m from merchandising and ticketing.

Possible sponsors are being offered more latitude than normal to adapt the logo. Lloyds TSB has already adopted it in its own green and blue corporate colours and Coca-Cola is understood to have produced a logo in its hallmark red. Visa, the card payment company, said it was working on designs to render the logo in its corporate gold, blue and white.

The public will also be invited to superimpose family photos onto the logo, which could then be used as screen savers for computers and phones or printed onto T-shirts.

The 2012 pattern has been made available to the five London boroughs around the Olympic park to emblazon on the side of buildings. An early design for the Olympic stadium includes exterior panelling that resembles the logo design.

The Olympic mascots will be unveiled in 2010, probably after a public competition.

Although Wolff Olins received a fee of £400,000 for the logo, it is expected to double its money once it completes work on applying it to other aspects of Locog’s corporate identity.

Woodward called up

Sir Clive Woodward, the World Cup-winning rugby coach, is to take control of the careers of about 100 of Britain’s most promising sportsmen and women in a bid to propel some to gold medals at the 2012 Olympics in London.

As the director of elite performance at the British Olympic Association (BOA), Woodward aims to turn at least 18 of the young stars into gold medallists in a bid to hit Britain’s target of fourth place in the medals table.

In a related move the BOA is attempting to foster talent in sports such as swimming, judo, archery and boxing, which have multiple divisions offering more chance of medals.

Woodward is building a team of experts to advise on every aspect of the athletes’ development. The BOA hopes the five-year scheme will be supported by business sponsors. There will be no public funding.


Robert Booth

Times Online