London 2012 Olympic logo misses the mark

As farces go, The London 2012 Olympics logo was sublime. A brand story that flashed around the world in seconds and shone a spotlight on London’s marketing community.

Initially, debate centred on aesthetics and cost. But news soon broke that a video on the London 2012 web site could trigger epileptic seizures.

This changed the story from farce to a worrying vision for the future of multi media that such a high profile brand could get it so wrong.

One of the most basic web guidelines of accessible design is “avoid causing the screen to flicker”. Any animation flashing in the four to 59 flashes per second range can cause seizures for the 23,000 photosensitive Epileptics in the UK.

Thankfully, the London 2012 organisers were quick to remove the footage from the web site but this is not the end of their accessibility worries as the logo itself fails key requirements.

Sufficient contrast between fore and background is vital for colour deficient or low vision users. Having analysed each of the new brand’s four colour schemes, we soon discovered that none of the colour schemes passed the colour contrast test.

This failure makes it difficult for users to differentiate the logo from a white background and importantly to read the white ‘London’ brand on the logo itself.

Scalability of the logo is also a concern. The individual elements of the logo become increasingly difficult to read as the size is reduced. The ‘London’ brand becomes almost impossible to make out because of its already limited size within the logo. While the complex shapes which make up the ’2012′ date become more and more difficult to distinguish as the size decreases.

Regardless of colour contrast and scalability issues, the logo is still difficult to interpret. Its complex, ‘graffiti’ style means many of us pause and have to think for a few seconds before we can actually understand what is going on. Usability is about making things easy. A good brand should communicate its message instantly. London 2012 does not do that.

In their eagerness to embrace ‘youth’ culture, the London 2012 organisers have completely missed the point about who their target audience is. The Olympics are not only of interest to the internet generation. Indeed, up until now, the London 2012 Olympic bid was sold as being of benefit to the entire nation.

Is it sensible to make the brand so unusable and inaccessible that they run the risk of alienating the majority of the Olympic fan base? This is a clear case of not understanding user needs and designing a brand by assumption.

From an aesthetic perspective, whether you love the logo or hate it, boils down to personal taste. Aesthetically you will never please all of the people all of the time. But in terms of usability and accessibility you must please everyone, every time. Commercially, legally and ethically it is critical that we design usable brands and products that meet the needs of all users.

The usability and particularly the accessibility issues raised by the launch of the brand this week are likely to grab the headlines for all the wrong reasons. With the logo being used for both the Olympics and the Paralympics, the latter of which is the world’s most prestigious competition for disabled athletes, the irony is profound.

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