So, it’s the Tokyo Olympics very soon and there are numerous issues around the safety of athletes, the lack of fans, and whether it should be going ahead at all.
But, back in 2015 the Tokyo Olympics was in hot water for very different reasons – the logo.
A lot has happened since 2015 (minor understatement) but it’s worth looking back to the issue with the original logo, which was designed by Kenjiro Sano. With an apparent wealth of well-known clients, Sano and his studio seemed to be a great fit for the Games branding designers.
Following the launch of the logo, the designer was accused of plagiarism by Belgian designer Olivier Debie. Debie accused Sano of copying his symbol, which he had previously created for the Théâtre de Liège in 2013. Sano strenuously denied the claims at the time – although there is no denying the similarities of the logos.
Unfortunately for Sano, it was all to no avail as the Olympic committee bucked under the international pressure and scrapped the branding work. Even though Debie pulled out of legal proceedings due to financial pressures, the Games organizers (and Sano) agreed to scrap the branding work.
Of course, there has been a new logo and branding for the Tokyo Olympics for many years now, and it is perfectly fine in itself. But the accusation of copying and subsequent damage to reputations is a difficult one to go away (although it does seem that Sano and his studio continued trading beyond this incident in 2015).
The problem is, although of course the two logos were very similar, it is entirely conceivable that the routes to creating them were unique. You can completely see where each designer would pull references from in order to reach their final design. In Debie’s case, the initials of the theater. In Sano’s case the initial of Tokyo and the Japanese flag.
The trouble is, we judge originality on the final ‘thing’ created. This is what is protected legally too, in some instances. However, to judge whether something is original we should really judge the creative process by which that thing was created.
Creativity is a process. In an ideal world, we would judge originality of a process, and not of a final ‘thing’.
Of course, there are issues regarding conflicts of logos not being allowed to be too similar, but it is a very weak argument to suggest that the original Tokyo Olympics logo might have had a negative affect on the business of a theater in Belgium. However, the design community can be very quick to throw accusations of plagiarism around, with little appreciation of the consequences these might cause.
If the creative process were more visible, transparent and validated, then maybe those who create something new can be judged by the originality of a unique process – and not a unique ‘thing’.
Anyway, regardless of the history of the branding, we have an Olympic Games ahead of us. One which will be like no other. All we can hope is that the competitors are kept safe and well, and they return safely to their home nations.
Contributed to Branding Strategy Insider by: Paul Bailey, Strategy Director at Halo
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