2016 Olympic Games Logo: Creativity Burning on Damp Fuel

What do the 2016 Olympic Games and the Telluride Foundation have in common? Nothing, really, except their similar logos. According to Internet sources, the logo bore striking similarities to the logo of Telluride Foundation, a charitable organization based in Colorado, USA. The Brazilian media, in particular, was quick to note the similarity.

The Brazilian organizers of the 2016 Olympic Games revealed the new logo to an audience of about 1 million people in an elaborate New Year’s Eve party in Copacabana Beach. Within a few hours after the logo was launched publicly, the Web was already abuzz with comparisons and speculations of the real and original source of the logo.


Similar Colors, Similar Elements

The new 2016 Olympic Games logo shows 3 human-like figures, with their hands joined as in a circle dance. The Telluride Foundation logo also shows something similar but has 4 human-like figures complete with two legs each.

The colors of the Olympic logo also are similar to Telluride’s, except that the latter’s had a red figure not found in the Olympic’s. It takes a trained eye to recognize that the Olympic logo spells the word “Rio,” but it is definitely there. The Telluride logo, on the other hand, doesn’t spell anything but is shaped like a heart.

Some observers have noted that the Rio logo merely removed some elements of the Telluride logo (i.e., the legs of the neutered sprites) and modified the design a bit. Reception of the Rio logo varied from appreciation to mockery to disappointment and to humorous associations with baby pacifiers, thong backs, or even phalluses. The shape of the logo can even be associated with the shape of Brazil’s famous Sugarloaf Mountain.

Never Plagiarism

Even Fred Gelli, the director of Tatil, admitted the similarity but denied the allegations of plagiarism. Tatil is the Brazilian agency that designed the controversial logo.

Gelli explained that the Olympic emblem designed by his agency underwent rigorous scrutiny and was researched extensively just to guarantee its uniqueness. However, he also admitted that he has never seen Telluride’s logo before and that the agency apparently “missed that one” (the foundation’s logo).

A select group of 15 internationally acclaimed professionals formed the multidisciplinary commission that took charge of the emblem evaluation and selection process for the upcoming Olympic Games.

The Telluride and Carnaval Equivalence

Incidentally, the buck doesn’t stop just there. The Telluride Foundation’s logo itself was found to resemble French artist Henri Matisse’s 1909 painting, “La Danse” (The Dance).


Worse, the Telluride logo is exactly the same as the logo used in Salvador Carnaval 2004, the carnival held in Salvador, Brazil in 2004. No one has ascertained yet which one came before the other, or who stole from whom. See no difference:


Perhaps, Inspiration

There is little claim to the allegation of plagiarism in the Rio logo. Similarity does not constitute plagiarism. Inspiration is not plagiarism. But, both similarity and inspiration can lead to a design lacking in originality.

The case between Carnaval 2004 and Telluride, however, is plagiarism because the two logos are exactly alike.

For sure, the Brazilian organizers for the 2016 Olympic Games didn’t steal from Telluride or from Matisse. At the most, they probably found inspiration from the neutered sprites of Telluride, or from the universal idea of people holding hands in a circle as reflected in Matisse’s artwork.

Besides, if the evaluation commission found any potential rip-off from the designs it reviewed, it would have discarded them right away.

Neutered sprites (those human-like figures that often have arms stretched out) are common in logos, and, as a matter of fact, are overused. Some designers, though, get away with unique and novel ways of designing logos with neutered sprites in a manner that is fresh and never trite.

The colors green, yellow or gold, and blue are common colors, too—all of these are Brazilian national colors, which do not include red. Yet, if the artist that crafted the Rio logo is guilty of being a copycat, then the designer would not have chosen to position the colors in a similar way, and if such is the case, the similarity of color positioning is pure coincidence. It is also possible, though, that Tatil artists did base the Rio logo on the Telluride logo. But, then, it’s just speculation.

How the Rio Logo Ran on Damp Fuel

What lessons, then, can we learn from the latest ruckus about the 2016 Olympic Games logo?

One, originality is priceless in logo design. Often, a logo artist will seek inspiration from an existing logo, but this doesn’t mean the artist has to create a spin-off. Inspiration is not about copying. Rather, it is about having some idea to start with and to mold into something fresh and original.

Two, neutered sprites have become passe and somewhat overly used. It may be wise to avoid them. There was a time in the past when they were vogue, but designers all over the world used them to the point of exhaustion. Or, if you have the talent, you can get away with a well-designed logo with neutered sprites, but the design will have to be original, fresh, and never rehashed.

Three, there’s no such thing as perfect originality. Every logo design will always have some similarity with some other logo out there. In many cases, the other “doppelganger” remains undiscovered (especially if the logo is for some remote company with not much contact with the online world), creating the illusion of perfect originality. Otherwise, if the logo is for a well-known company, then many observers can easily report similarities. Take, for example, the oval shape of both Carrier and Ford logos:


What then is the 2016 Olympic Games logo guilty of? Plagiarism? Hardly so. Lack of creativity? Not even. Lack of originality? Definitely.

Paul Adrian Gonzalez writes for Impact Logos, Australia’s premiere logo design company. Visit Paul’s little nook to learn more how to create a high-impact business logo for your company.


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