Design at the Vancouver Olympics: Ilaanaq, Curling Pants, and Charlotte Sans

At first, I resisted writing about the logo for the winter Olympics in Vancouver, but Friend of IBD Amy Lethbridge called us out on Facebook, so it had to be done. Amy posted a link to an NPR story called Vancouver Olympic Logo: A Smiling Marker Of Death? and commented, “Come on Paul, Shea, I need to know what you think!” It got me to thinking about some of the design-related elements I’ve been noticing while watching the games.

van_2010_logo1. I like the logo.

The logo, by the Vancouver firm Rivera Design Group, was one of 16,000 entries in a design contest. It features a human form called Ilaanaq (the Inuit word for friend), constructed in an Inuit tradition called inukshuk, the act of balancing stacked rocks. You can see a full description of the design decisions that went into the logo on

The NPR story makes the point, however, that in the tradition of inukshuk, the Inuit people used these rock formations to identify good hunting grounds, and typically did not create human forms out of them. In fact, the article quotes Inuit inukshuk expert Peter Irniq as saying that you wouldn’t typically see these formations as human, and if you do, “It’s a symbol of the fact that someone may have, um, committed suicide or someone may have murdered somebody at that spot.”

But I think that using the inukshuk style is an appropriate homage to the Inuit culture without intending to be a dissertation on the meanings behind the practice. If the folks at the Rivera Design Group had made the logo some amorphous stack of stones rather than in the shape of a person, it wouldn’t have worked as a logo, and some other design firm would have gotten the award of $25,000 and two tickets to the opening reception.

As I said to Amy, I realize that I’m violating the official graphic designer credo by liking something that was created for distribution on a mass scale. We’re required by law to say something like, “Ack, it’s so corporate,” or, simply, “What were they thinking?” But I do like the logo. I find it engaging and unique.


NOTE: Added February 25, 2010: In comment #8 on this post, Canadian Friend of IBD Joan writes that there is a specific inukshuk that represents a human form found on English Bay in Vancouver (see the photo by Peter Graham above). Seems that someone should alert NPR to this.

Jeff Franko/Gannett

2. I have curling fever.

tuqueEvery Olympics, it seems that there’s some fashion item that becomes all the rage. This year, I thought it was going to be the moose-themed USA knit caps (or “tuques,” for our neighbors to the north) featured during the opening ceremony. Friend of IBD Jeff Miller pointed out that these hats sold out quickly and were going for upwards of $400 on eBay.

Then, bless their hearts, along came the Norwegian curling team. I am drawn to the sport of curling in general because it seems like the only winter Olympics sport not based on a dare, and because the scoring system reminds me of bocce ball, which reminds me of my annual trip to the New Jersey shore, which reminds me of boardwalk food, which reminds me of cheesesteaks and ice cream. And I like cheesesteaks and ice cream.

I particularly like that the Norwegian curling team, which like the American team is not very good, chose to recognize the non-athletic nature of this sport by wearing trousers that look like they were designed by someone who either golfs too much or has a gambling problem. Or both.

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