The Best from the London Design Festival

Posted inDesign Events & Conferences
Thumbnail for The Best from the London Design Festival

By: Charlotte West


In the run-up to the 2012 Olympics, visual reminders of London’s upcoming role as host of the Olympic Summer Games have become omnipresent as massive infrastructure upgrades occur across the city and the Olympic Village is constructed. But the impact has not been limited to architecture. When branding agency Wolff Olins launched the logo for the games in June 2007, graphic design took a pummeling in the British press.

In addition to making front-page news on all the major tabloids, the controversial logo prompted almost 50,000 people to sign a petition demanding it be changed. (It also received criticism from the industry itself. Three days after the logo was unveiled, design critic Adrian Shaughnessy wrote: “The Wolff Olins ‘brand’ for the London 2012 Olympics looks as if it has been designed by a committee desperate to prove its street credentials.”) Although the logo seems to have weathered the storm—two years later, it dances prominently on the 2012 Olympic website—many feel that it has done little to endear the graphic design industry to the public.

Spin, Football (left); Non-Format, Cycling Track (right)In response, Grafik commissioned 39 British designers to each graphically interpret an Olympic sport or discipline. The results were on display at Grafik’s Olympik exhibition sporting the tagline “39 Sports, 39 Designers, 39 Posters” at the German Gymnasium in Kings Cross during London Design Festival last week. Caroline Roberts, editor of Grafik, says that after all the controversy over the 2012 identity, “We wanted to do something which celebrated both the fact that this amazing event is coming to London, and the wealth of graphic design talent that lives and works here.”

John Morgan, Boxing (left); Anthony Sheret, Jumping (right)

The purpose of the exhibition was to provide an opportunity for designers to showcase their interpretations of the various sports because Olympic poster commissions have traditionally gone to artists, rather than graphic designers. Posters were also an easy way to meet the public, adds Roberts: “It was important to us that the subject matter was accessible to everyone, not just graphic designers.” The designers were given a fairly wide brief, but there were some restrictions. “The Olympic rings are one of the most strictly guarded identities, so the contributors weren’t allowed to use them. This was actually a very positive thing as we didn’t get endless visual puns based on the rings.”

BMX Painting at Manchester City FC from Alison Johnson (Music) on Vimeo.

The majority of the posters featured strong yet simple graphics, some focusing on capturing a sense of movement and others presenting stylized or typographic interpretations of their given sport. In two cases, the designers drew upon their own athletic prowess for the sake of their art. For the BMX poster, Music inked the tires of bikes ridden by the Manchester BMX Club with four colors: cyan, magenta, yellow and black. (In a “stuff to sort” list on their home page, Music gives some insight into their process in making the posters: “buy BMX bikes (x4), get BMX bikes spray-painted white, test-ride spray-painted BMX bikes, buy plasters for grazed knees and elbows”).

Detail from Big Active’s Archery poster

Big Active, who was assigned archery, also stayed true to their name and took an active approach to their poster design. Creative director Gerard Saint thought it would be an ideal opportunity to try the agency’s hand at archery. On the Big Active blog, the agency continues: “Applying some reductionist thinking, Saint designed a simple archery target within the specified poster format (in CMYK colours of course just to be smug). Grafik kindly obliged by asking Team Impression to prepare a litho set of posters for us to work with. On Monday we had these delivered to the 20/20 Archery Range in North London and set off for an evening of elementary target practice under the watchful eye of our instructor Gemma.”

Ian Anderson, Table Tennis (left); Nick Bell, Modern Pentathlon (right)

Other standouts included Marina Willer’s three-dimensional, typographic version of taekwondo (below, left), Fraser Muggeridge’s topographic play on flatwater kayaking and John Morgan’s rendition of boxing, where he uses the weight of the typeface to reflect the sport’s various weight divisions. Also noteworthy were Tony Brook’s soccer ball that looks like a globe and Non-Format’s top-down perspective on cycling.

Marina Willner, Taekwondo (left); Fraser Muggeridge, Kayak Flatwater (right)

A catalog and a limited number of each of the posters will be for sale, and the profits will be donated to the children’s sports-related charity Right To Play and the UK Paralympic Fund. The project is a collaboration between Grafik, SEA Design, GF Smith and Team Impression.


The London Poster Project on view at the Victoria & Albert Museum for the duration of the London Design Festival also caught our eye. Together with festival chairman Sir John Sorrell, Pentagram’s Domenic Lippa curated an exhibition of posters by 20 leading UK graphic designers and typographers who were given a brief to producing a poster that celebrates London as the creative capital of the world using only black and red colors.

Angus Hyland

The list of designers chosen for the London Poster Project was hardly surprising as the show was a veritable who’s who of the British graphic design scene, but perhaps more interesting were the posters created by 22 recent graduates, who were given the same brief. The young designers were all participants in Emerge, the debut graphic design graduate showcase of the London Design Festival with entrants selected by Francis Muggeridge.

Morag Myerscough

Ruth PearsonA panel of industry leaders selected Ruth Pearson‘s entry (above) for the 2009 Emerge Graduate Award, presented on September 25. “I based my poster around the tube map. By removing the lines, it gives the impression of a constellation, or city of lights,” Pearson explains.

Henrik Kubel

Richard CareyWe also liked the poster by Richard Carey, who perhaps best fulfilled the brief of depicting London’s current status as the creative capital of the world with the tagline “No vacancies, I’m afraid. But if you like we can offer you an internship. Please note this would be unpaid. All the best.”

Fernando Gutierrez

The 20 silkscreened A1 posters commissioned by Pentagram were printed in a limited edition of 100, 50 of which are available for purchase through Blanka.

Alan Aboud

Quentin Newark