Skip to content

Branding and Design for Rio 2016

With a huge summer of sport reaching its pinnacle with the Olympics & Paralympics just around the corner, I wanted to take a good look at the how their branding has been developed into what we will see for almost a month and a half through August and September.

Plenty of time to take it all in and start examining the branding and design, if you haven’t already. This will be no easy task, considering the sheer scale of where the brand needs to reach. From the logos to the tickets, the mascots to medals, there is an immense amount of work that has gone into creating the image and personality of these Olympic games.

Think of all the possibilities for creativity! Well this would be your chance to really go for it and it would be hard for someone to play the cost card or the “it’s too out there” card considering it’s the Olympics and Paralympics…if you are not taking it to the next level, you’re doing it wrong! Given what the athletes themselves strive to achieve; the amount of training, hard work and sacrifice that goes into their preparation, the branding needs to pack just as much of a punch as the jaw-dropping skill and determination of the athletes. So what is the Rio 2016 branding all about, where does it derive its imagery, ideas and message from? We’ll soon find out!

The Brand

The brand has put across five main messages:

  • Passion & Transformation
  • Contagious Energy
  • Olympic Spirit
  • Exuberant Nature
  • Harmonious Diversity

Reading into these messages I have picked out a few main points. In my eyes, they wanted to embody the Olympic spirit of participation and combine it with warm welcome from the citizens of Rio and the Carioca soul. With any imagery they wanted to showcase Rio and Brazil as a landscape and country which this video shows it gives you a real idea of how they wanted to use the fluid movement to create an outlining picture of Rio, Brazil and its many landmarks, along with mimicking athletes in their movements.

Personally the brand executes this perfectly through clean and colourful imagery almost leading through the story of the Rio 2016 Games. Although they did have one thing which I wasn’t really sure how it fit into the brand. It mentions on the Rio 2016 official branding page that their visual language is based on a simple pebble and the Rio 2016 typeface expressing movement and performance, which the typeface does brilliantly but I struggle to place the importance of the pebble. Maybe it links to the landscape, and the organic forms but in my opinion it feels forced. The pictograms are one of the few instances where the pebble seems to be named and quite clearly used in the design.

The Logo and Typeface
The brand ideology extends through into the logo and its typeface again showing the fluidity of movement with the typeface and bringing through the idea of participation into the characters together as one. I was quite surprised to find out that two different companies had worked on the elements of the logo. The graphic image was created by Tátil, whereas the typeface was created by Dalton Maag. Whether or not this was done on purpose, this level of collaboration reinforces the ideology of participation and togetherness. Personally, the logo shows the brand as a whole, doing the job of being the face and first point of contact of the Games. Furthermore, the process shines a light on collaboration and in the industry collaboration sometimes gets lost because of workload or time elements but this shows a great example of what can be produced when people work together.

I have read a few articles that slate the logo, saying it is “forgettable” and very much like a generic sporting event logo. Given that Brazil hosted the World Cup in 2014, it is difficult for designers to maintain the identity of Rio as well as the spirit of sport, while trying to innovate and differentiate each event from one another. I can understand where these arguments come from but (here’s where I contradict myself) a shortcoming of all design projects is that we as outsiders don’t know how the logo started. Clients will have final say and if you’re a designer, you will definitely have had your designs changed to connect with the masses.

Looking at the Olympics and Paralympics, they have such massive audiences and reach that there also has to be an element of cultivating that broad appeal alongside that innovation. While this is a global event, there is also an element of different cultures occupying different spaces in design and this should be taken into consideration. It’s a chance for all of us to look more into the design ideology in Brazil, and find some inspiring takeaways.

Some may think it doesn’t break the boundaries of design but I don’t think it has to. It just has to capture the spirit of the event and the location where it’s taking place. I think in a world where User Experience is a big thing (read Carl’s article on UX here!) you have to take into account the sheer amount of diversity in users and consumers for the Games and pleasing them all is a monumental task. Forgettable or not, Olympic logos and brands have always faced criticism and it is rarely remembered past the event. What is remembered are the performances of the athletes; the moments that make us jump for joy and the ones that make us feel the sting of defeat. This Rio branding has just given a colourful, spirited background for these moments to happen against.

Event Pictograms

Another big element of Olympic design is the pictograms. Since the 1964 Tokyo Games, every games has a set of designed pictograms representing sports in the games, which go on everything from signage at events to tickets. Rio 2016 has made a little bit of history by managing to represent every single Olympic and Paralympic sport with its own individual pictogram for the very first time. The pictograms themselves take great influence from the brand ideals and more specifically the typeface created by Dalton Maag, connecting the typeface with the sports to create to motion and fluid movement in each and every pictogram.

I do find a few of the pictograms a little confusing without the help of a strapline, particularly the diving and multi sport pentathlon. They also sit individually with the “pebble” background, so other than the odd few I mentioned before, they do a really good job of representing each sport and especially the Paralympics sports, representing disabilities or prosthetics in the same fluid motion style of the brand. Another surprising fact I didn’t think about in designing the pictograms is that they have to get approval from all the individual sport federations. No easy task considering they will all have strong views on how their sport is represented! Upon further reading it is part of the reason why the project took 16 months as it took 5 months alone to get approval from all the federations. Rio 2016 created a video depicting the creation of the pictograms, which takes the viewer through the creative process.

Website and App

Considering we are a digital agency, I wanted to give the Rio 2016 website and app a test drive so that I could give a first hand account on user experience and aesthetics. Along with this I want to further my knowledge on website design and app design so this section may not be as comprehensive if it were being written by a web or app designer so please forgive me.

After doing some digging, I found an article that suggested the Rio 2016 site and ticket site was not accessible, I wanted to investigate this point. Accessibility has become quite an important thing lately with some websites not being as accessible as they could be. I found it quite ironic that the Olympic and mainly the Paralympic games would allow their website to not be accessible when the whole Olympic message is involvement for everyone. The Rio 2016 Games website has an accessibility page that speaks to the accessibility of the website.

Swiftly moving on to the aesthetics, feel and user journey on the website. Everything on the sites, including the Torch Relay and Paralympics site brings through the colourful and fluid movements of the brand to the online platforms including the app. Along with this, the balance in the layout of lovely photography and simple, clean and easy to read information allows you to find everything you need.

The functionality is smooth and simple giving the user an easy, fluid route around the site. The one hitch for myself is the navigation. When looking through websites I don’t like to miss anything out (especially if I’m just wanting to explore the site) and I don’t think the navigation is clear enough on the main site. It almost hides to the left hand side of your page. Although when you do find it, it is easy to get to where you want to get to. Overall, I love the look and feel of the online platforms and find it easy to get to the information I want to.


So after coming into this post with a “design hard or go home” attitude, I have slightly changed my tune after realising how much more of a monumental task designing for the Games is from what I previously thought and how you have to take a more considered and level headed approach in my opinion, whether that be trying to capture the nation’s spirit, staying on track with your target audience or getting approval to actually use your designs from individual sporting federations.

There needs to be a lot of consideration for where the designs will reach and how to depict the home nation and the sports involved to the world. So hopefully this post gives you a little bit of an insight into why the Rio 2016 games look the way they do and a little bit of my opinion about the aesthetics as a Junior Designer.