27 February 2020

Ready, steady Tokyo and the Olympics' new moving pictograms

Everyone has their fingers crossed that the Coronavirus won't jeopardise the Tokyo Olympics this summer and meanwhile preparations continue apace. This week the Games launched the first ever animated pictograms. We take a sneak preview!

Sometimes it is too easy to take things for granted in sport. The Olympics, for instance, comes round every four years like clockwork, a world-class showcase of sporting achievement, but could the Coronavirus lead to a postponement? We really hope not, and that everyone stays healthy and their hard work pays off. The announcement this week that for the fist time ever, the Olympics would add animation to its sport icons, was just another reminder of the work and detail that goes in to these events.

Believe it or not, there was a time before these icons existed. Over the years, these graphics, representing all the disciplines (and latterly encompassing the Para Olympics too) have evolved to represent new sports and to reflect the culture and traditions of the host countries. While there were some early contenders, the big leap in sporting pictograms started at the Tokyo Olympic 55 years ago. According to Markus Osterwalder, the Secretary General Of The International Society Of Olympic Historians quoted on Olympic.org, “The Japanese were faced with the problem of language. Nobody speaks Japanese outside Japan. So they really had to find something that would work for all the people from other countries. A non-verbal system.” 

The result was the fist systematic set of sporting icons. "They invented a very simple new language and a totally new form of graphic design. They used sports photography for the first time, and typographic unity as a graphic element. That had never happened before. Tokyo 1964 had brilliant designers, who knew what they wanted to do and did some fantastic work." And says Osterwalder, for the 1964 Games the Japanese also came up with the first pictograms to represent men and women's lavatories. Who says sport doesn't give anything back!

A fascinating video (left) tells more of the history of these Olympic icons, including how different countries used their own cultural influences to enhance the concept. Now Japan has taken the lead again with the first set of animated icons. The icons themselves are designed by Masaaki Hiromura and the animation work developed by Japanese motion designer Kota Iguchi. You can see some of the icons on the London-based creative industries and design site, It's Nice That, including the Paralympics tennis icon below.