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The Making of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Logo

2020 Tokyo Olympics


One of the most interesting stories behind a logo is the making of the Tokyo Olympics logo. The story has everything – design meaning, drama, and accusations of plagiarism.

It’s easy to overlook this news because we really don’t think about the Olympics unless it’s an Olympic year. Well, now that we’re officially in 2020, we’d be remiss if we didn’t share the story behind this year’s logo.

Are you ready to find out more about this fascinating story?

Read on to learn the full story behind the making of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics logo.

The Initial Unveiling of the Logo

On July 24, 2015, the organizing committee of the 2020 Olympics proudly unveiled the brand new logo for the games, designed by award-winning graphic designer Kenjiro Sanro. His logo was chosen out of more than 100 submissions.  

Sanro designed the logos for both the Olympic Games and the 2020 Paralympic Games. The original designs featured a T, which stood for Tokyo, tomorrow, and team. These concepts represented the spirit of the Olympic games – to connect and unite the world through sport and create a better future.

The colors black, gold, grey, and red were used in the design. The colors were used to create the T shape in whitespace.

It wasn’t received with resounding praise, but it wasn’t widely panned, either. That all changed

The Controversy of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics Logo

Shortly after the logo was unveiled to the world, Belgian designer Olivier Debie showed his design for the Theater de Lige. He noted that the two designs were rather similar.

The organizers of the games brushed off these allegations until Debie began a lawsuit for damages. In September 2015, the organizing committee decided to drop Sano’s design.

Debie eventually dropped his lawsuit, citing the costs to take such a large organization through a long legal process.

The New Logo Design

After the controversy of the initial logo, the bidding process to design the logo was reopened.  It was an open process that received almost 15,000 submissions.

In April 2016, a new logo by Asao Tokolo was chosen. The design used a rounded checkered pattern that represented unity in the spirit of the games. Under the checkered pattern, Tokyo 2020 and the Olympic rings appeared.

In June 2019, a designer named Daren Newman came up with his own interpretation of the logo. This was well-received by designers and it spread on social media. It’s often mistaken as the official logo of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The logo uses the Olympic rings to create the numbers 2020. The last ring is a solid red, the same color as the rising sun in the Japanese flag.

Don’t Make the Same Mistakes

Some business leaders think that some mistakes are more expensive than others. In the case of the 2020 Olympics, the logo turned out to be a public relations nightmare.

That was on top of other allegations of bribery to get the games and a major design controversy over one of the new stadiums being built for the games.

Credibility is a big commodity in the business world and once it’s lost, it’s very difficult to get back. You don’t want to make the same mistakes as the organizing committee.

Here are some things that you can do to protect your business and your brand.

Do Your Research

When you design your logo, you want to see what your competitors are doing. You do not want to copy them at all. That will only look poorly on your business.

You also want to research your industry to make sure that you’re not infringing upon someone else’s copyright or trademark.

A great resource is the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office database. You’ll be able to search for registered trademarks, including logos to make sure that yours is original.

Have Brand Guidelines

Some of the top brands use very strict brand guidelines. A brand book or brand guidelines gives designers and anyone who interacts with the logo how the logo should be used.

The International Olympic Committee has strict guidelines around the use of the Olympic rings. The logo design by Daren Newman wouldn’t work because it violates the brand guidelines.

Everything from the specific colors, margins, and backgrounds used are outlined in these guidelines. If you have the right to use the rings, you have to abide by these guidelines.

The lesson for you is to protect the integrity of your brand. That’s why so many companies have these guidelines. If one designer decides to get cute with your logo, it dilutes the impact of your brand.

Protect Your Intellectual Property

You may not think much about your logo, but there is always a chance that someone can come along and create a very similar logo. That could confuse potential customers and cause a loss of business.

You can protect your intellectual property and your business by registering your logo with the patents and trademarks office. It will help your process to work with an attorney who has experience in intellectual property law to guide you.

Tell the Story

One thing that each of the logos designs of the 2020 Olympics got right was the story and the meaning of the design. Both designs were about creating unity in the world through sport.

You want to incorporate meaning and story into the logos that you choose. You can do that by using colors, whitespace, fonts, and symbols.

The Story of the 2020 Olympics Logo

Logos are an important part of any organization. That’s why organizations like the International Olympic Committee takes the Olympic logo seriously.

The story behind the Tokyo Olympics logo presents an opportunity to learn from the mistakes of one of the biggest organizations in the world. These are lessons that you can apply to your own logos.

You can start applying those lessons now by trying our online logo maker.