An artistic bent — 21 October 2011

The 2012 Olympics have a lot to answer, being told we can’t travel to work next August, cabs banned from Olympic Priority “Zil” Lanes, and Lord Coe’s self-satisfied face on television every night of the week, but its biggest affront is about to be unleashed on Londoners in the next few weeks, namely:

2012 Headline

Soon every bus, taxi and billboard will be advertising the 2012 Olympics. Avenues of lampposts will have hanging from them banners written in a font called 2012 Headline, and as if to rub salt into the wound they will also be displayed in . . . French. Every lamppost in the Capital looks to have hung from it what the International Olympic Committee call pageantry, and because French is the Olympics’ second language expect the “pageantry” to appear in England and French.

Why should be present ourselves in such a fashion? Thirty years ago London was regarded as a culinary desert offering only meat and two veg or fish and chips in most of its restaurants, now because of the brilliance of its chefs London can claim to have some of the finest restaurants in Europe. In the world of fashion – so they tell me – we have surpassed New York and Paris as the place to show the work of cutting edge clothes designers.

So what have we given the world to advertise London’s Olympics and to place it yet again at the forefront of design? A font that looks like a group of primary schoolchildren has designed it during a wet lunch break, but don’t take my word for it. In a list of the world’s worst typefaces Simon Garfield in his recent book Just My Type placed it at number one, that despite some very strong competition. Simon Garfield claims that the public were so outraged by the London 2012 Olympic logo that the Games typeface will just go unnoticed. At the time of its unveiling some accused the logo as looking like a swastika, unfairly in my opinion, at least the swastika has symmetry, others rather bizarrely saw within its jagged shapes Lisa Simpson having sex, but gave no thought to the logo’s typeface.

Some might think that the choice of typeface is unimportant amid the enormity of London’s Olympics, but we identify companies, institutions and events by the advertising used to promote them. If amongst all the other crazy things that Transport for London does they one day should choose to “rebrand” our Underground by getting rid of the familiar roundel and Johnson’s typeface, petitions would be at every station in protest within days.

I know that the Olympics were started in Greece, but did we have to brand London’s contribution to the Olympic heritage with a typeface that wouldn’t look out of place above a dodgy kebab takeaway down the Mile End Road?

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Gibson

(8) Readers Comments

  1. I don’t think we should jib at having Olympic signs dubbed in French as France is arguably our nearest foreign neighbour and French tourists contribute a lot to the economy. French already appears in many public places such as stations and airports and, in any case, if you look around you will see many languages appearing in the public space for the simple reason that many languages are spoken and written in today’s Britain (including French). That’s fine by me, as long as everyone remembers that we all need to be competent in a common language too so that we can all communicate with one another.

    I agree with you on most of the rest. We always knew that the Olympics were going to cost us money, inconvenience and heart-ache. We will just have to bite to bullet until the whole wretched business in done with and we have only the massive debt to face. We can then grumble about the increased taxes that will be levied to pay the bill.

    As for the aesthetic aspects of the Games, well, what do you expect from a bunch of self-important no-sense politicians? They can’t manage to get the economy right, sort out education, or look after the sick and the elderly properly. You can hardly expect them to have any idea when it comes to choosing a font and designing signage.

    As for cabs being banned from Zil lanes, well, tough. Personally I think they should be banned from bus lanes as well as I don’t see why flocks of cabs carrying one or two people apiece should be allowed to block the movement of buses carrying 50. Buses help reduce congestion while cabs contribute massively to it.

    • As a writer of a French language blog:
      http://tigreblanc.wordpress.com/
      and francophile I should have expected that you would put up an argument to have the signage in French, but really we should all admit that the Games should be signed in Greek – and if it was not for politicians vanity should always have been staged there

  2. I totallly totally agree re this disgusting typeface. I have been complaining about it here and there on my own blog http://www.janeslondon.com for ages (but especially here: http://www.janeslondon.com/2009/05/at-6.html. It looks like it has been added to the ‘logo’ (ech, spit) as an afterthought and what really bugs me is the lack of lower case L on London. Ow ow ow my eyes hurt!

    • And what’s the o all about, the rest of the alphabet purports to be in italic, and yet the little o tries to bang its head on the preceding letter as it wants to remain upright. And don’t get me discussing the lack of capitals for proper names.

  3. @SilverTiger. In the rush hour yes, buses are often full. How many of them run empty or only have a few passengers either side of the rush hours? Yet quite often bus lanes are 24 hour.

    • At night there are just convoys of empty buses patrolling London a little bit more clear thinking needs to be done to free up London’s roads

  4. Only just come across this article.. very much appreciated. I know that this was some designer’s idea of ‘getting down with the kids’ and appear a bit edgy but I have teenagers and they have nothing but utter contempt and revulsion for both the typeface and logo. My son refuses to buy stamps advertising the Olympic logo for the duration. As a devotee of the superlative Hermann Zapf, I approach the prospect of entering the Olympic Park for the paralympic track cycling with trepidation. I am not joking. I also believe these heinous designs are sure to fuel riots this summer.

    • I think attributing the cause of riots to a typeface might be a slight exaggeration but the Olympic face will certainly cause the rolling of some eyes and the odd stoic shrug of shoulders. Incidentally next month I intend to rework this post for Metro newspaper’s Olympic blog coverage, comparing it with a typeface that really did London a lasting legacy and identity – Johnson Sans. Now if TfL wanted to change that there really would be a riot.

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