Monday, July 27, 2009

Drawing on the Five Rings

The Olympics conjure up lots of opinions, thoughts and views. Known for outstanding athletic achievement, unity, politics and even scandal, it is often passionate comments that flow upon hearing the word Olympics. Beyond its own iconic five rings, logos and design, however, are often not the first thoughts to spring to mind when ‘Olympics’ is discussed. Though the use of the word logo is a stretch, the London 2012 logo may have changed that.

A logo is an image that provides instant recognition and understanding to the viewer. It creates an instant thought that provides a positive or negative reaction. Over the history of the modern Olympics, organizers used coats of arms, games posters and national symbols to represent their games. The first logo, or unique singular image, came at the Squaw Valley winter games of 1960. They used a simple design of red, blue and yellow triangles with the five rings. It can be argued Tokyo’s games of 1964 had this singular image too though it was simply the rising sun with the Olympic rings. The first true, unique and singular image used for a Summer Olympiad was for Munich in 1972. Munich’s organizers created a whole design theme for the games based on its funky, 70s inspired spiral logo. This fed not only into posters, which still stand out today as some of Olympic history’s best and most colourful, but also tied into the flowing design of the Olympic park that maintains a modern, fluid feel to this day.

Munich inspired a change in how Olympic logos were created. They were now on to themselves meant to be iconic images as opposed to simple symbols meant to adorn letterhead. The examples are numerous. Calgary’s 1988 snowflake made of interlocking C’s to represent Calgary and Canada, as well as the small cowboy boots depicted at the end of each arc, carried with it not only images of winter but of the sturdiness of the new west. These logos have depicted motion and energy like those of the summer games of Los Angeles, Seoul and Barcelona. The move lately has been back to the use of elements directly representative of the host city such as the opera house and aboriginal roots of Sydney’s in 2000, the olive wreath of Athens in 2004, Torino’s Mole Antonelliana in 2006, or the inukshuk of this February’s games in Vancouver. Each era has created emblems simple yet elegant in design but with powerful, clear messaging about the host city and the event itself. They have been true logos that provide the instant recognition, strength and credibility I discussed earlier.

The point here isn’t a history lesson but rather a foil for the sheer disappointment of London’s 2012 logo (again, very hard to type the word ‘logo’ next to London 2012). It is hoped then that the use of the 2012 design does not indicate a turn in another direction, one that leaves us without a sense of wonder about the host city, a vision for the future or the passion generally evoked by the Olympic Games. As my artistic abilities have not evolved past grade two stickmen, I always joke that anything I could draw or design should not be fit for public consumption. This definitely meets that test. A classic, historical city with a strong Olympic past should be at the leading edge of design; not attempting to create a brand and legacy around what can only be described as an error. An error of judgment and imagination that moves Olympic logo design to a sad place it has historically never been, and hopefully will never return to again.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Edmonton's Inner Light

Confidence is a funny thing. When you have it, you’re invincible and possibility abounds. When it’s gone it can feel as though it’s rolling away from you never to come back. Of course we primarily speak about individual self esteem but it can just as easily be analyzed in cities. In the case of Edmonton, I think this is the crux of the identity problem we possess.

I’ve said for years that Canadians are terrible at speaking up about who we are. We’re bashful and always, at least in our minds, play second fiddle to the US. Albertans, despite some outsiders who view us as the ‘brash’ west, are worse yet constantly harping on our lack of national clout or our deficiency of good weather. If there was a confidence meter though, unfortunately no one would rate lower than Edmontonians. A city full of growth, promise, assets and opportunity still sees itself as less than other cities in this country and beyond.

Though I believe the confidence issue has existed for years, former Oilers defenceman Chris Pronger leaving our fair town in 2006 seems to be the quintessential example of our lack of self-belief. (As a sports junky and Oilers fan you should be proud I got through two paragraphs without a sports reference!) Now I don’t believe #44 handled his departure well, but there has yet to be any proof that he left because he hated it here. Ignoring all the rumours, there may have been legitimate reasons for leaving and most cities would’ve brushed that aside and worried more about the affect to the on-ice product. Here, we’ve not only taken it personally but based solely on chatroom buzz have started to think “gee, if Pronger leaves it must be true that this isn’t a good place to live”. Confident cities would instead rally to the support of their hometown or, and perhaps better, just ignore the situation and move on with quiet assurance of knowing their town is alive and well. However, in these three years every time a player doesn’t sign here, agree to get traded (see Heatley, Dany) or leaves our automatic assumption is that it’s completely due to our inadequate city.

The Pronger debacle merely brings to light our long held self-image problem. For a city with many great assets and incredible accomplishments, we have much to brag about. As I said, Canadians in general won’t brag, but Edmontonians need to build their inner confidence about how great a city this is. We’re not perfect by any stretch but we’re worth believing in. Confidence starts from within and it’s up to us as Edmontonians to act with a quiet belief that says “we know what’s going on here and how great it is”. It’s then that people, both in Edmonton and beyond, will take notice. Running to the top of Manulife to yell to the world isn’t necessary but instead building that intrinsic conviction is key. Until that light goes on in all of us, outsiders will perceive us for how we see ourselves, as inferior.