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Why the Tokyo 2020 Olympics logo fiasco is a witch-hunt

One month after organisers pulled the plug on the Tokyo 2020 Olympics logo, Hey Studio co-founder Veronica Fuerte calls for designers to stop fighting and work together…

Veronica Fuerte image: Żaneta Antosik

Veronica Fuerte image: Żaneta Antosik

As designers we're constantly surrounded by inputs. Information is everywhere and we're bombarded by it all the time. Walking down the street we see posters, adverts, shops, people; while on the internet we read blogs and articles, and look at thousands of images that people we follow have liked.

Our culture is alive with ideas and they can be accessed as never before. We absorb all this information. Most of it goes in unconsciously and sometimes something stops us for a moment in our busy lives and makes us think, setting off a train of thought that arrives somewhere else.

It's quite normal that you remember some of these things you have seen and use them in some way without thinking about it too much. This is how the creative process works. There is an accumulation of ideas that over the years evolve in different ways when applied by different people.

In a creative profession like design it's essential to be aware of what's been done and what's being done. This is how we learn, get better and how the work that we produce grows.

Uniquely challenging

The really big challenge with making an identity is to create something unique. To make something completely unique is incredibly hard and if you manage to do it then you have either done something revolutionary and brilliant or something bad and wrong!

An artist or a designer who is angry that their creativity has been copied makes a good news story. Social media explodes and everyone can give their opinion. There's a big fuss, it's a lot of fun and then it's forgotten.

The disappointing thing when this happens in the less visible creative industries, like design, is the realisation that the only time that the profession seems to get noticed is when we are meant to be at war with each other.

Sometimes you think it would be nice if the story could just be that someone produced a good identity but obviously we all know that isn't the way these things work. Disaccord makes a better story.

Global influences

How closely one piece of creative work resembles another also depends on the type of work it is. Crossing the red line from being influenced by something to just copying it isn't the same in every creative process.

The smaller the creative palette, the more similarities there will be. That doesn't mean it has been copied, it just means that if people are using the same tools, it is more probable they will come up with ideas that are like each other's.

When you work with geometry and synthesis in illustration and design, it is quite easy to arrive at a similar place. You might have got there by completely different routes but it really isn't at all surprising or unlikely that you reached conclusions that have things in common.

The Tokyo logo is exactly this. There are similarities, elements that look the same, but that is just a coincidence which comes down to nothing more than that they were created using similar styles and techniques.

Anyone would love to think that their work had been copied for a truly global event like the Olympics, but that just isn't the case. But that doesn't make as interesting a story as plagiarism.

We live in an age where information and opinion is everywhere. Social media allows people to share their thoughts where, before, only a select few could through traditional media. This has been positive in terms of what it allows us all to see and do.

Designing together

The downside is that social media can act like a lynch mob, gathering enough force and momentum to make things happen that, with perhaps more thought, we wouldn't allow to happen.

Public opinion, as expressed through social media, put too much pressure on the Olympic organising committee and we shouldn't be surprised that they decided the easiest thing to do was to abandon it and try to move on.

I personally do not agree with taking legal action in cases like this because I believe it was a coincidence rather than an infringement of copyright. These things are very difficult, and expensive, to prove in court and, more importantly, I think that designers should be working together, not fighting each other.

This article first appeared inside Computer Arts issue 245, a branding design special packed with expert advice from the world's best agencies and studios, plus pro tips for pitching more persuasively and more - on sale now.

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