PHAIDON

Otl Aicher, design concept for the Munich 1972 Olympics
Aicher was asked to create a design that complimented the architecture of the Games, a practice he would apply to future projects as well.
Before the Olympic stadium was built, Aicher created the first Olympic poster based on the architect's model


How do you design a poster that can be read in every language?

The London 2012 graphic designers should take note from Otl Aicher, who did just that for the 1972 Munich Olympics

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Tracey Emin, Rachel Whiteread and Gary Hume are three of the twelve artists selected to create posters for the London 2012 Olympic Games. They will be following in the footsteps of legendary graphic designer Otl Aicher who was responsible for the design concept of the Munich 1972 Olympics. 

Aicher successfully addressed the challenge of designing posters for a global event that needed to be understood in hundreds of different languages.

In October 1966 Otl Aicher was appointed as the official design representative for what would become one of his most prominent commissions, the identity for the 1972 Munich Olympics.

Printed matter such as posters, brochures, tickets and letterhead were created from a core of set elements - such as colour, type and format - and worked as complimentary components of Aicher's larger visual identity.

The intent was to create a design so that all the visual applications related; Aicher did not feel standardisation resulted in 'uniformity' but rather a more flexible and coherent system.

"As a strictly designed grammar, the system allows free, playful application," Aicher explained before the Munich Olympics in 1970. "This is comparable to ball games or chess, where fixed elements and an agreed set of rules allow playful freedom." 

Aicher sought advice from Masaru Katsumie, the designer charged with creating the concept of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Together they resolved fundamental organisational issues and Aicher's team subsequently simplified the pictograms developed for the Tokyo Games which depicted typical movements for the various sports.

"This curious balance between obligation and freedom, which is characterised in sport, has its affinity in the area of aesthetics," Aicher said. "The choice of our colours is precisely defined, however, we believe we have discovered a whole world of combinations."

Aicher's application of colour for the Games, although primarily an organising principle to divide the media, sports and technical departments, was easily identifiable and effective in communicating information. He extended the basic colour palate into his posters for sporting events but with subtle variations and blends to create complex, yet complimentary images.

What resulted was a system in which the different sports and events could be recognised using the colours and symbols, therefore using as little wording as possible.


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Otl Aicher, Phaidon Press