Almost a year ago, the city of Chicago unveiled its Olypmic applicant city identity and was welcomed with rare fanfare from the design community. Smart, surprising and sophisticated were all regular compliments — and these are only the ones that start with an s. Then in May of 2007, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) changed the rules of the bidding process for cities, with one clause stating that city logos “shall not contain the Olympic symbol, the Olympic motto, the Olympic flag, any other Olympic-related imagery [such as] flame, torch, medal, etc.” Chicago 2016’s skyline torch was now breaking the law.
Besides designers, the city’s residents rallied behind the logo and it was adamantly endorsed by Chicago’s biggest icon, Mayor Daley. Finding a replacement for the torch would be no easy task for VSA Partners, who had designed the identity pro-bono originally, and would do it again for version 2.0. And it must surely have been the least enviable position to be in for the venerable design firm: Finding a logo that felt the same, conveyed the same ides, and captured the same elements of the previous one. As a designer, it’s one of the worst positions to be in, because the expectations than had been set were already succesfuly met, and repeating the task with the same energy is nearly impossible. Yet, from the resulting logo, unveiled this week, SVA proved that the hat trick could be done twice.
The new logo retains the basic construct of the old icon — a blue-to-green gradient on the bottom, representing the lakes and the parks, and a red-to-yellow gradient on the top, representing the skyline of the city — and integrates one of the few victory- and hope-related elements that the IOC has not deemed inappropriate or off-limits, a star. Which on first impression looks like, well, a rather ugly star. Yet, it’s deliciously not gratuitous, as it is the shape of the stars that adorn the official flag of the city of Chicago. The resulting logo is a striking, highly visible and recognizable identifier for Chicago’s bid efforts and, despite its mushy rationalization, it may even be better — as a mark not an idea, mind you — than its predecessor.
City of Chicago flag.