The 2020 Tokyo Olympics Design Debacle

And Why Design Contests are Bad for Clients

An international design competition was launched late last year to design the logos for the Olympic and Paralympic games in 2020, after the original logo by Japanese designer Kenjiro Sano was scrapped by Olympic organizers amid claims of copying from the Belgian designer Olivier Debie.

It’s surprising that after the very public scandal, the Tokyo Olympics committee thought it wise to hold a design contest to solve their logo dilemma, a prime example of compounding one mistake with another. Going with a logo that was not cleared from copyright was an honest lapse that can be forgiven, but instead of searching out other, reputable design firms to work on a new direction, they headed down the deep dark hole of design competitions.

Olympics Logo Competition

The finalists. Winner is bottom right.

Transparency Needed

The design competition issued by the Tokyo Olympics received over 14,000 submissions, an almost obscene number to think about having to judge. If a judge spent 30 seconds looking at each submission it would take them over 7 weeks of work to look at each one. Trying to find this diamond in the rough must have been a grueling competition of it’s own, not to mention the process surely weeded out designs that probably had potential but just needed revisions.

And the winner is…Nobody!

At the end of the competition, the Olympic committee shared only the designs of the four finalists. We should acknowledge that the winning design has a lot of merit, and should provide a good platform for the multitude of variations necessary for the Olympic games. But as a matter of opinion, the runners-up all show a lack of focus and finesse; they have that muddy, mushy quality that makes you ask, what exactly are we looking at? It is well known that with a logo, less is more, and these runner-up entries all make you appreciate and wonder what a professional design firm (or several) could have created.

This outcome is often what you get from people who are not fully invested in the final product. Design competitions are like playing the lotto except that instead of handing a dollar to a cashier and putting a ticket in your wallet, you sell your creative soul to the devil for a near impossible chance at pseudo greatness.

“Crowdsourcing design for any prominent identity is stupid business—and it’s incredibly disrespectful to our profession. The contest to create the 2020 Tokyo Olympics identity provides a simple and stark truth: the winning entry is to be paid ¥1,000,000, or $9,400 USD. For an asset that will generate hundreds of millions of dollars, worldwide.”

Pitching Real Problems

Auto Body Shop LogoSure, those that designed submissions did it with the best of intentions, and probably spent more time on it than they should have, but we are not talking about creating a logo for an auto-body shop. This is the freaking Olympics, a billion dollar, international, standard-setting athletic competition that is broadcast in every country under the sun. This brand deserves so much more than just a ‘throw it out there and see what sticks’ kind of competition.

Like every business, every company, big or small, the Olympics should treat design with respect. Not only do design contests diminish our craft, but they also show a lack of interest in the quality of your product. The design process is meant to be insightful, collaborative, and like a game of creative ping pong. Design competitions are like playing a game of dodgeball, having your hands tied behind your back, all while trying to sip a cup of coffee.

New Logo for 2020 Tokyo Olympics

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