Case study: The Sydney 2000 Olympic Games brand identity program
An extract from a presentation by Richard Henderson to the Design Management Institute Conference in Amsterdam in 2004. Later published in the Summer Edition of DMI Magazine Vol 15, Number 3. Richard was a founding partner and Design Director of FHA Image Design. This is a personal reflection of his experience of the Sydney Olympics visual identity program from 1992 – 2000
The Sydney 2000 Olympic Games identity program was a significant global project where imagination, ideas and a strategically based creative process were harnessed to inform, motivate, and differentiate to deliver a business and brand communication asset. The Sydney Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (SOCOG) realised that they required strategic brand design to bring the concept of the Sydney Games to life and empower Games communications up to, and throughout the event in 2000. FHA Image Design was the design firm that developed the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games identity program over a five year commitment.
The Sydney 2000 Olympic Games brand strategy
As one of Australia’s brand identity design specialists, I have been called upon to develop branding design solutions for a variety of leading multinationals and high profile power brands, across a diverse range of industry sectors. Nothing could possibly have prepared me for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games brand identity project! The Olympics is the world’s biggest global event, which carries with it a tremendous degree of expectation. The entire experience of the Games is underpinned by its “new” identity every four years. This means that the business expectations of a myriad of engaged parties must be satisfied simultaneously. The Sydney 2000 branding strategy represented what I considered to be the very essence of branding by design—that it’s far more than the creative development of an effective logo and an astute palette of colors. It’s an all-encompassing brand strategy and an identity solution that every component of the organisation can leverage, align with, and utilize with confidence, power, and belief. There are few greater business tools than a comprehensively developed brand strategy and supporting brand identity. Indeed, a brand identity should be the linchpin for any business: For the Olympic Games in Sydney 2000, the identity design would help define the very foundations from which new visions could be expressed, and provide the ideal platform on which existing ones can be rejuvenated.
My involvement with the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games was over a period of many years. In 1992, my agency FHA Image Design (I was a founding partner and the Design Director) created the boxed set of Bid documents which helped visualise Sydney’s Bid to host the Games in 2000.
The Sydney Bid was successful. It now required a visual identity that would assist in defining the Sydney brand experience leading up to, and into the Games itself.
The Olympic Games brand is one of the most recognized on the planet and carries with it a host of strict requirements. IOC guidelines must be adhered to, including those pertaining to the use and treatments of the official Olympic Rings device; and the brand identity designer is required to align these requirements with the host city it represents—one of the identity strategy’s primary aims.
However challenging these considerations may have been, the sheer size and global stature of the Olympic Games identity and its physical location in Sydney 2000, brought with it its own separate (and highly unique) range of ideals, considerations, emotions, and expectations. And these, just like the IOC requirements, had to be taken on board, processed, and incorporated into the Olympic Games brand strategy framework. For example, the IOC needed the brand strategy to re-establish reputation (diminished via its perceived “commercialization” by sponsors during the 1996 Atlanta Games and poor host-city brand management), SOCOG needed a brand strategy that would work hard to establish Australia as a significant global player. For the Sydney organisers, the Games provided the perfect opportunity to show the world what the Land Down Under could really do.
In 1995, after the Games had been awarded to Sydney, a national design competition to find a brandmark for the Games was commenced, and our design agency FHA Image Design was one of the eight firms short-listed to propose, for an agreed fee, an identity solution.
The FHA approach was a strategic one. We believed that the identity for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games had to achieve the following:
- It had to talk to the world on behalf of an eager, capable and inspirational nation.
- It had to dispel tired and quaint clichés of Australia (koalas and kangaroos, etc.).
- It had to capture the spirit, energy, and values of modern Australia.
- It had to generate optimism and embody the very feelings of Australian style.
- It had to talk to the world and in doing so forge a new vision and voice for Australia.
- It had to deliver a brand promise that informed, inspired, and motivated the Olympic family, the sporting world, athletes, corporate and sponsor groups, and national and local governments.
This was by no means an easy task, for not only did we need to strike the right balance between the equally important expectations of the IOC and the SOCOG, but we also had to achieve results and outcomes for a diverse and complex range of stakeholders. For example, our brand identity had to inspire confidence in the organization and provide focus for its people, generate ticket sales for the organizers, promote tourism for Australia’s governments, inspire the world’s athletes to participate, re-invigorate pre-existing sponsors, and generate new commercial partners. From my point of view, I wanted our design to engender pride in Australian creative quality and optimism for the new millennium that the Games would herald.
The Visual Identity Brief required two (2) designs to be prepared. To achieve our objective of winning the competition, we developed the following strategy the creative journey:
- Gather information and gain understanding of the Olympic traditions and ethos.
- Do the necessary research about previous Games identities.
- Consider how the unique qualities of the Games in Sydney 2000 (it’s powerful truth) could be captured in a Creative Idea and then expressed as a visual identity.
- Undertake design development using a standard design process from concept to final brandmark. Although we had a proven track record in delivering on time and on budget, our motivated team of talented young designers would require focus and leadership for the design marathon ahead.
We developed the Creative Idea “Share the Spirit” which formed the basis of our design explorations. We believed this idea captured the essence of the event in Australia. After two months of hard work we submitted our two (2) solutions. One was a symbolic triumphant leaping figure, and the other a design influenced by the open sky of outback Australia depicting a symbolic glowing hand. Although we won with the latter design, SOCOG rejected it on the grounds that it was open to interpretation and too abstract.
A second competition was held.
This was a particularly difficult time for our team. Having won, we now had to start all over again. Looking for inspiration, we found in one of our earlier sketches a “running boomerang man” which provided the basis for a new design. Seeking simplicity, we endeavored to design a mark that a child could draw in the sand. Our solution won the second competition
Apart from it’s design quality, a significant element in selecting the final design was it’s ability to be registered globally – so individuality was critical.
Several key visual elements defined the Sydney 200Olympic Games brand mark. Importantly it needed to encapsulate the positioning ”The Athlete Games,” which would characterise the Sydney Olympic experience. The design used the boomerang –in an imaginative grouping of visual clichés –, which spoke to Australians, and the world in a unique and memorable way. The flowing hand drawn script broke away from the traditional corporate look of previous identities and reflected the spirit of Sydney and Australian style. The blaze above the runner suggested the Opera House, whilst the colours conveyed the energy of Australia and the landscape. The final configuration, complete with the Olympic
rings combined heritage with personality – in other words global/local.
The Look and Feel of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games
As John Moore, SOCOG’s Director of Marketing said “You don’t hold the world’s biggest party and not get dressed for it.” A complete visual strategy– the look and feel of the Games – was required to support the brandmark and create the personality of the Sydney Games that would influence all expressions. It was our belief that the Sydney 2000 brand mark shouldn’t be used to create an overall impression of the Games through patterns and other adaptations which would devalue it’s prestige. Rather it should stand apart as “the emblem”, a heroic identifier of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, it’s values, and all that the event represented. A separate visual language, the “look and feel” would be the vehicle to act as a graphic brand fingerprint, uniting all expressions.
We knew that the success of our brand identity would be measured by its ability to provide an integrated and universal business solution to a branding challenge, and achieve measurable bottom-line results. This was not an artistic venture, it was a business marathon, and so it was imperative to manage our creativity by harnessing it firmly to strategic and analytical thought.
In 1996 another competition was held for the design of the look and feel program and four agencies were short-listed. Again, after a comprehensive design submission, our agency FHA Image Design was successful.
The look and feel strategy FHA devised was developed using the following principles:
- Confirm the Sydney 2000 Olympic brand attributes and values.
- Conceive thecreative idea that would become the cornerstone of the look and feel (visual language) program.
- Create a brand story to give meaning to the creative idea and then design the graphic expression as “the look and feel”.
- Develop integrated brand architecture for all sub-brands, sporting and community brands, and communication programs across all media.
- Identify milestones, schedules, and deliverables.
- Understand roles, responsibilities, and team structure.
We knew the brand values and attributes and the Sydney 2000 vision. The challenge was to visualize it. What we needed to discover was the creative idea.
Our creative idea was based upon the fusion of fire – symbolic of the Olympic spirit and represented by the torch; and water, representing the blue of Sydney Harbor. We called our creative idea – ‘fluid energy’.
We expressed this creative idea by visualizing the Olympic rings reflected in the waters of the Harbour. A brilliantly simple creative solution.
Bringing the creative idea to life as a ‘fluid energy’ graphic enabled the look and feel of the Games to be integrated consistently across all media and applications. Rick Birch, the designer of the Opening Ceremony used our brand idea of water and fire (fluid energy) as the basis for the theatrical lighting of the flame in the stadium.
The look and feel strategy included a colour palette, a typeface hierarchy, a series of graphic formula based on the reflected rings, and a toolbox of support image elements. We designed a complete brand strategy for implementation over a number of years. Remember, this was all designed in 1996, four years before the event – so a longterm view was required. The suite of colours we created became a distinct and influential palette (they were even used by Esprit and Chanel in their 2000 fashion expressions). When we presented the entire look and feel proposal to the SOCOG Board we received a standing ovation.
Following FHA’s official appointment as the identity consultants for Sydney 2000, I joined the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games Design Committee responsible for the image of the Games.
We had the master brand and the look and feel. Now it was time to extend the brand image into four significant projects.
1. Image Guidelines Manual
An Image Guidelines Manual set out the branding strategy for stakeholders and was the resource that dictated the look of the Sydney Olympics. Brilliantly illustrated, the manual presented the history of the Olympic Games and provided insights about Australia and our culture. It documented the guidelines for the master brand, the look and feel and provided examples of use. Written in English and French and over 200 pages in size, it was the first Olympic Manual to contain artwork as digital files. This manual was so effective in articulating the logic behind an Olympic Games brand program and delivering tangible business solutions to SOCOG and the IOC, cohesively managing expectations and providing inspirational leadership, that it set a new benchmark in Olympic brand programs. The strategies developed by FHA Image Design for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games Manual are now a permanent and compulsory feature of the ongoing Games identity program.
2. The Look of the Games
The many venues around Sydney were dressed with the look and feel, including the Olympic Stadium, in which the 300 events of the games took place. The look and feel brand program was adapted and integrated into the architectural signage, spectaculars and way finding. It was an enormous task, requiring the cooperation of a range of internal and external project teams under the Design Direction of our firm.
All venues were assessed by the Look Team and the identity integrated to maximise television exposure. It was critical that the relationship of the IOC master brand and the Sydney 2000 host brand were implemented using a strategic logic. This ensured that the brand messages were not compromised and always in view at event time. The look and feel provided the visual glue. The Sydney colour palette was adapted by Athens and Beijing.
3. The Torch Relay
The torch relay, a great Olympic tradition, and a significant branding opportunity. The relay took place over 100 days beginning in Greece and traveling across Oceania and around Australia. It arrived in Sydney on September 15, 2000 for the Opening Ceremony. An identity program was created by FHA Image Design for the relay that complemented the Olympic emblem, but also could stand alone as a unique brand. The color red was incorporated as a dramatic contrast, representing fire brought to the water of Sydney Harbour. The illustrative style was clearly linked with the Sydney 2000 host brand mark to create cohesion and distinction. It was endorsed by an Australian corporate sponsor, AMP Insurance.
4. Implementing the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games Identity
A number of organizations and events associated with the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, such as the Olympic Village, The Youth Camp, Indigenous programs, Sporting and community sub brands, sponsor programs, and the Olympic Arts Festivals required a disciplined branding strategy that identified each as distinct but also as part of the overall Olympic brand image. A hierarchy of the Extended Olympic Brands was created, all supporting the Sydney Olympic emblem. The strategy and all design outcomes were created by FHA Image Design.
Delivering a strategically based identity program
SOCOG assumed control of nearly every aspect of the event from the moment the city’s successful bid was announced. It was to be an Australian led, managed and designed event and brand building was seen to be crucial to the Sydney 2000 business strategy. Indeed, this degree of autonomy and ownership wound up being critical to the overall success of the brand identity program. It minimized the many agendas and politicking because the identity provided a focus, and our expert advice was available. The brand was bigger than micro, disruptive issues. It meant that as designers we were able to look at the identity from a strategic point of view from day one of the campaign—and it also allowed sponsors and other stakeholders to embrace the identity’s reason for being and integrate the Sydney 2000 brand identity with their own marketing communications.
Far from simply designing a logo, we were charged with the mammoth task of pioneering holistic brand architecture and ensuring that everything we created for the identity could directly adapt to a multitude of purposes. This was an Olympic Games first. No design agency, before or since, has had the opportunity to create the master brandmark, design the look and feel, develop the manual and work as a hired consultancy for three years to implement the identity across a wide range of applications. In addition we designed the Torch Relay identity. And, although it is not an IOC event, FHA also designed the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games Visual Identity as well.
To be specific, we established strategic logic for the visual identity and provided the designed elements and systems as it was interpreted through:
- Marketing communications
- Commercial and sponsorship
- Corporate communications
- Partner and sponsor campaigns
- Sport-specific programs
- Sub-brands—programs and special events
- “Look” (signage, venues, fields of play, common domains, and the like)
To do this required a degree of strategic and insightful business acumen that many companies assume creatives and designers don’t have! The Sydney 2000 Olympic Games brand identity program taught me a lot of things, but above all else it taught me just how powerful a business tool design can be if it is given the chance to flourish and it is backed by sound strategic and commercial thinking. Entering into the project I had hoped to see what a brand could really do, and I was by no means disappointed. For what I witnessed between 1995 and 2000 – from the start of the program to its conclusion, was the ultimate return on imagination: for me, our design team, the IOC, SOCOG, Government, and importantly, the variety of stakeholders. The Olympic spirit was rejuvenated, all ticketing expectations were exceeded, tourism revenues increased and Australia became a hot topic as an exciting destination. The entire event had an asset in its identity that integrated global communications for partners, sponsors and business. The brand identity assisted in raising $1 Billion in marketing and sponsor investment. And at the closing ceremony, IOC President Samaranch said, “Sydney was the best Games ever.”
The ongoing challenge—establishing branding as a dimension of an organization’s business strategy
Today’s designers recognize their clients are making a huge investment—both in the cost of creative services and implementation and in the fact that, once the identity has been rolled out, the designers’ importance diminishes. Designers are not clairvoyants, of course. We cannot foresee the future, but we can make intelligent predictions and stretch our vision to encompass it. By continually asking whether a brand identity will act as a beacon for confidence and positive relationships, we strengthen the power and value of the identity. And so, just as designers need to continue to expand the dialogue between companies and their own creative teams, companies need to put imagination onto the business agenda as a viable, rewarding business asset.
Brand identity is an abstract idea that delivers tangible results. It’s about capturing a personality and bringing it to life for an organization, event, or business venture. Event big or small, company global or local, it doesn’t matter. Competitive advantage now comes from creativity and imagination. Without a true identity an organisation risks fragmentation, because issues of identity extend far beyond a mere “brandmark” or “logo”—they encompass realities and future possibilities for the organization. Key to developing a true identity is the ability to create a story that identifies the organization’s unique attributes. In marketing this is second nature, but how often do creative teams get this license to explore? Engaging in comprehensive discussions with stakeholders (including management teams and relevant individuals) often uncovers an amazing asset that they’ve been unaware of. Mixing creatives with clients at the center of the discovery process facilitates ownership by management of their new identity—which is crucial for companies undergoing significant mergers or change. In this way design and business forge new understandings and develop unexpected outcomes.
Accepting that strategically conceived creativity can shift minds and that designed outcomes can shape perceptions, allows a whole new dialogue to arise. This conversation is empowered as much by imagination, innovation and creativity, as it is by the client’s business expectations.
In other words, it is driven by the collective desire to achieve a business return on the power of imagination.
Key members of the FHA Image Design Sydney 2000 Olympic Games team were:
Trevor Flett, Jeff Arnold, Ken Shadbolt, Steve Payne, Allan Marshall, Lee Firms, Trisha Garner, Carma Sisik, Katie McCartin, Rachel Terkelson and Andrew Fowler- Brown.
Bio: Richard Henderson was a founding partner and the Design Director of FHA Image Design in Australia. He was the Design Director for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Game identity—a project he worked on for five years. The implementation of the identity program by FHA was extreme and comprehensive. In 2001, FHA Image Design was acquired by FutureBrand, a global agency.
In 2003 he left FutureBrandFHA to commence business on his own as R-Co in Melbourne, Australia. He was appointed Visual Identity consultant for the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games and R-Co was responsible for many of the Games’ identity applications. Richard has the unique experience of being the Visual Identity Design Director of both and Olympic and Commonwealth Games in the same decade. R-Co continues to specialize in brand identity and management for it’s Australian and international clients.
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