Scoffers say bad Olympic design is legion—and inarguably, there’s a kernel of truth to that. Uniforms must signal national pride (without lapsing into jingoism) and translate seamlessly across body types and the peculiar operational requirements of each sport. The Games’ logo must communicate both uniqueness of place married to the universality of sport, and it’s so famously bad at pleasing all the people, all the time, bashing the latest Olympic logo is an official parlor-sport. This universal logo shaming applies to the 2014 Olympics as well.
Perhaps most tellingly, the Olympic viewership globally encompasses an almost ludicrously broad swath of personality types, demographics and, certainly, design sensibilities. You can’t win ‘em all over—and this year’s winter Olympic designs are refreshingly unapologetic about not even trying.
Pattern-lovers can rejoice (or tear their beribboned wigs out), as this winter’s Games are awash in bold choices. Take the Norwegian curling team, highlighted in The New York Times and the subject of a late-breaking Facebook craze. Partnering with the California-based company Loudmouth, the Norwegians have ripped a dazzling hole in curling, a sport so quaint and confined to the Olympics that it might be argued the patterned-pants have catapulted the sport back into relevance. “These pants would be great to win in,” Norwegian teammate Haavard Vad Petersson told the Times. “But they’d be terrible to lose in. We decided that when we wear them, we have to really try and win and go the whole way.”
The Germans busted out with a bold chromatic rainbow for their 2014 uniform. Designed by Willy Bogner, he claims the 2014 look isn’t a “silent protest” against the homophobic rules of the Sochi Olympics but instead are supposed to give a visual nod to the “great atmosphere” of the 1972 Summer Games in Munich. Given that nine Israeli athletes were brutally massacred during those particular Games, “great atmosphere” is highly debatable. Regardless of the intended precedent, the Germans’ current look is bold, distinctive, informed by the national colors but also suitably transcendent.
How are American Olympians clad, you ask? Warmly, cozily, knowingly. Ralph Lauren’s design for the 2014 closing ceremonies features a Christmas-kitsch-style sweater that’s restrained but witty, wrapped in a sturdy pea coat with a bold red stripe. The baggy vanilla-white pants could use some rethinking, sure, but overall it’s a crisp, friendly, finished look.
When Americans step up to the medal podium, however, we check the folksiness at the door and go fully futuristic in Nike’s look:
My hands-down favorite design find tied to the Sochi Olympics has to be the Bosco-Sochi Olympic collection, which gathers a staggering array of Russian folk patterns to create sportswear for athletes across this sprawling country. Perhaps the most difficult balancing act in 2014 Olympics design is signaling diversity in a thematically unified way, otherwise-insurmountable distances bridged by the commonality of sport. Bosco’s Olympic patchwork really grabs the gold – too bad their designs will only be sold in Russia. It’s safe to say Olympic competition is intensely global, but also stubbornly local.
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