Last week saw the reveal of the new kit designs for the Great British Olympic and Paralympic team. As with the 2012 games it was down to Stella Mcartney and Adidas to take on the responsibility of kitting out those who will be representing the nation. The 2012 kit was well received; it felt fresh, strong, striking and proudly British; exactly what was needed to wear in front of a home crowd. Unfortunately, for us however, this 2016 model falls at the first hurdle.
The latest design doesn't have that same simple, bold but understatedly British design aesthetic. Primarily, this all feels like it is trying too hard, too hard to be patriotic. The combination of both the Union Jack and the Coat of Arms feels over-designed and both visual elements are fighting for attention. Secondly, the use of the Coat of Arms as a silhouette means the detail and symbolism that these crests hold is lost, leaving a graphic device that feels crude and unconsidered, it almost feels like a piece of clip art.
But who are we to tell Stella Mcartney and Adidas how to design our nation’s kit? Well, having designed the 2012 Olympic stamps for Royal Mail and being responsible recently for re-interpreting the Royal Arms and Scottish Royal Arms for The Royal Collection Trust, we feel we have earned our stripes where considering how to design a contemporary representation of Britishness.
This kit design feels crude; the Coat of Arms specifically could have been drawn or interpreted in a much more elegant way, symbolising the craft of British design. Although the application is obviously different and textiles for athletes are not the ideal place for detailed and crafted illustrations, looking at the crest drawn by Christopher Wormell for the Royal Opera House provides a beautiful start point for how heraldic design can be given a sympathetic modernisation. Interestingly, if you compare this to Wormell’s own updated club badge for Aston Villa you can see again the problem with the use of silhouette. The detail from Wormell’s original design is lost when translated into the silhouette used as part of the club’s badge, and we say goodbye to the craftsmanship and beauty of the original illustration.
For us the 2012 design felt much more successful, by stripping back the design it felt much braver and more confident, it didn’t shout for attention, it just demanded it. Similar to this, the ‘Made in Britain’ campaign marque creates an abstract arrow from the Union Jack; a bold but useful brand device that can be placed successfully next to or on any kind of product. Very simple, very understated, very British.
In conclusion, designing something to represent Britain is never going to be easy, nor could it possibly liked by all, but for us the attempts that work best don’t try too hard or shout too loud. Designs based on simplicity, quality and craft best represent the understated confidence of what it means to be British. And this new Olympic kit feels neither simple nor understated.