The Paris 2024 Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games recently unveiled the look of the games as well as the 62 pictograms of each discipline. Gilles Deleris, Founder and Creative Director of W&Cie, shared with Dare! what is was like designing this new group of pictograms in collaboration with the Paris 2024 brand teams.
How did you design this new group of Olympic and Paralympic pictograms?
First of all, the brief: being at the height of the ambitions of this Olympiad – rupturist. At first glance, it is almost paradoxical. The background of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in this matter is extensive. The sport pictograms have been drawn with the same guidelines for half a century. Since Tokyo in 1964, beautifully updated in Tokyo in 2020, they represent silhouettes – of men – in the midst of practicing the sports in question. The greatest designers have worked according to this dogma. So, we had to question the very essence of this subject. How to rethink an operating functional system? Why and for what purpose? How to remove the ambiguity of gender? All the signs used during an Olympiad must relate to cultural references in the organizing country. Which relevant symbols could be used for this French edition? Everything started from there.
You talk about a functional system that works. What is the purpose of these pictograms today?
This is a key question. Initially, the pictograms’ function was dual: to identify the sports in a way that could be understood by all nationalities without the help of language, and then to direct the public to the sites where the events took place.
The chosen option allows us to answer the first point, but by injecting emotion and new formal direction.
As far as orientation is concerned, things have changed in the last 50 years. Geolocation applications alone solve this functional issue. We felt authorized to design a more expressive solution than those of the previous Olympiads.
What are the imaginaries that are mobilized?
France has a very rich heritage. We drew on heraldic references to imagine pictograms such as coats of arms under which the sports communities could find themselves. The Paris Games have the ambition to be a driving force in the practice of sport for all, an issue defended by the French Olympic Committee. As for the emblems of the clubs, they are signs of gathering, carriers of pride and enthusiasm: all united by a sport, under the same flag, the same banner.
Then we also referenced the particular construction of the French gardens. These coats of arms are built according to symmetrical axes, in square modules which are a minimalist graphic interpretation.
Finally, the instruments, the balls, the lines of the field have been symbolized. By eliminating the silhouettes, we have imagined a non-generic system. Paris 2024 totally followed us on this solution to which we added movement, by working a specific motion language.
What process did you follow?
It is a long process. It is as exciting as it is complex. Some sports are not well known for their rules or the grounds on which they are played. We had to gather information, propose solutions to Paris 2024, have them validated by the athletes and international federations and by the IOC in Lausanne… Whenever possible, we tried to propose a single pictogram for the Olympic and Paralympic disciplines. It is a major evolution to bring the two committees together, we have been supported and encouraged by our contacts at Paris 2024. The work has been repetitive, with signs that have sometimes had dozens of versions. High-level athletes are very attentive to the specific aspects of their practices and their accessories. The shape of an oar for rowing, apparatus for gymnastics, equipment for Paralympic sports, etc., are all very precise and require very sophisticated design work.
What do you expect from the new visual identity?
We have had a lot of very positive feedback on the creative ambition of the project in France and abroad. We hope that this new kind of pictograms will combine the functional aspects of the sport but will also generate excitement for the athletes. They have been designed to be used on products as well to contribute to public adherence to new sports practices.
Then we will also see what will happen for the next Olympics. What will be reviewed, what will be kept. This exercise is a kind of holy grail for the graphic designer. Challenging established principles is no small task. But we are convinced that an approach that reconciles structure and fantasy brings something useful and interesting. This is true in all areas of visual expression at a time when international branding tends to smooth out its responses and propose standardized solutions. We must defend the idea of functional and emotional design. It is the strength of French culture to bring these complementary values together. Never one without the other.