Lindsay Yee explores the history of the logo for the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch and how it transcended the design community to become part of popular culture.
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We marvel at foreign design, look back in history to the Swiss modernist, Russian Constructivist’s, American Post Modernist’s and everything in between but rarely do we look back at New Zealand graphic design. This will be the first in a series of posts that will look at New Zealand graphic design icons.
One piece of design that has transcended the design community and into popular culture is the logo for the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch. Wellington designer Colin Simon put together the design, submitted and won the competition set up for the games logo.
The logo itself packs so much into one simple icon. Colin Simon came up with the idea while playing around with the numbers 7 and 4. But all of the simple genius maybe missed, the incorporation of the year of the games which is also the acronym NZ. The colours and shape mimic the union jack and incidentally an ‘X’ representing the 10th commonwealth games.
The logo is also significant in that the next five Games used a similar idea using the same colours and very simplified forms. Also the logo was trademarked, only the second Commonwealth Games to have a trademarked logo. Which is ironic considering how many times the logo has been copied for t shirts.
With the critiquing of everything to do with Wolff Olins’ Olympic games branding for London 2012 (and comment here and here), it is nice to have a comparative look at what New Zealand designers produced when such design challenges appear — even if they were 35 years ago. And the colours used in the posters are actually comparable to what has been used between the two completely different Games.
It’s also worth looking at what was done two years prior the poster design of the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich was taken as an interest by design studio Bibliotheque and from them, others.
Here (pictured above) are various ephemera that surfaced during the games. The posters were designed by Christchurch designer Bret De Thier, who also did some brilliant posters for the Christchurch Art Festival in the early 1970’s.
Thompson, Hamish. Paste Up: A Century of New Zealand Poster Art. Auckland, N.Z. : Godwit, 2003
Cant, A.R. and Bloxham, L.R. Official History of Xth British Commonwealth Game, Christchurch, New Zealand. Christchurch, N.Z. : Organising Committee of Xth Commonwealth Games, 1974.
New Zealand Industrial Design Council. “Designscape”. Wellington, NZ: New Zealand Industrial Design Council, 1969-1983.
Courtesy of Design Assembly / conversations on graphic design.