AIGA just published a fantastic rundown of all Olympic logos, as graded by Milton Glaser. Glaser is a legend, having created some of the most iconic design work of the 20th century, including the I ❤️ NY logo and the fantastic poster for Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits.
Logos, however, are a subjective endeavor, and one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. In other words, there is little objective truth in logo design… only a preponderance of opinions and feelings. It is possible to objectively grade a logo’s craftsmanship by looking for transgressions in things like alignment and stroke width, but in terms of how a mark makes you feel, beauty is much more personal.
With that in mind, there were some things in Glaser’s grading that I agree with and some that I disagree (even strongly) with, and thus, I decided to re-rank them according to a few criteria:
- Craftsmanship: How well is the logo made. You’d think more modern marks would have the advantage here, given how design tools have advanced, but that turns out to not always be the case.
- Timelessness: Newer marks have obviously experienced less patina throughout the years, but I try to correct for this in the grading. One could argue that for an ephemeral event like the Olympics, timelessness doesn’t matter, but as designers we should always aim for it when we can.
- Typography: Type in general is not strong across most of these marks. There are some notable exceptions though.
- Overall impression: This is the most important part of the grade as it is the true indicator of a logo’s effectiveness. It is also, however, the most subjective.
With those criteria in mind, here is my re-ranked list, in order of worst to best. Since I’ve ordered it this way, instead of by year, there is also a lot more snark at the beginning, but bear with me. Additionally, it’s important to remember that in practice, logos often go through many layers of politicking, compromising, and otherwise watering-down of what may have once been something much more impressive. Sometimes it is the designer’s fault that something didn’t turn out great and sometimes it is external factors entirely.