014 The final review session

In this segment, pursuant to chapter 013, I will record what took place on day two of the review session for selecting the official emblem for the 2020 Olympic Games Tokyo.

Before writing about the things that took place on the actual day of the review session, I had to take some time to think things over; things like what it meant to record the contents of the discussions, and whether or not I should be doing this at all. At this point, I cannot see the Organizing Committee releasing an account of, or the contents of the reviewing process any time in the near future. And as far as I can tell from what was revealed at the press conferences conducted by the Organizing Committee, I am not convinced that the truth will be made public in an appropriate manner. However, the judging was undertaken as a “public” task, to select the official emblem for the Olympic Games. There is nothing “private” about the task. Following this train of thought and its significance, I decided to give an account in my own words about what actually occurred during the review session, as a record of my experience as a judge on the selection panel.

There were eight judges on the panel. Considering the ethics of confidentiality, as for the method of depicting the contents of the review session, basically, I will refrain from mentioning votes and quoting specific comments with a name attribute and disclose material that I deem mentionable and describable, from a moral viewpoint.

In the course of the first day of review, we had narrowed down the entries to a shortlist of 14 designs. On the second day, each judge was allotted a single vote, which we were to cast for one project. As a result, the first place design got five votes, the second two, and the third one, respectively. According to this system, an entry could come in third place with a single vote from a single judge; the second place winner could earn a prize with two votes from two judges. This outcome seemed to challenge the judges’ learning; the intentions of a single person was bestowed with a lot of power, and a lot of weight was given to a single vote. It was a singular competition in the sense that the selection of the judges was extremely important—who exactly sat on the panel meant a lot more than usual.

Of the 14 entries that were shortlisted, I actually had chosen two works—neither of them placed—as my own first place candidates. So I spent a lot of time pondering over my three picks, which consisted of these two plus the first place plan, for which I had given high marks. To this date, I still have lingering doubts about the voting method that was chosen for the second day of judging: one vote for every judge. At the time of the review, I couldn’t fully grasp the significance of a second and third place plan just by reading the documents explaining the judging process. But then, there came the amendment of the first place plan and ensuing problems which made me rethink the significance of the second and third place plans. In hindsight, I feel that there must have been other options such as; casting a fresh round of votes after deciding on the first place winner, and choosing second and third place designs. Each judge could have been given three votes, two votes, one vote, for choosing the first, second and third place winners, respectively. In my opinion, this would have been a better and more appropriate way to select the second and third place designs, considering their significant roles.

I am now going to give a condensed summary of the discussions that went on during the final round. The candidates had been narrowed down to a field of four choices. There was a heated debate between those who were pushing for the first place plan, and others who were in opposition. Most of the time allotted for the review session was spent discussing the pros and cons of the first place plan. 

As for the plan that came in fourth place, it became a final candidate simply because one of the judges had voted for it. But the plan had little merit—it was of such a low level, it was hard to imagine why it had come so far. I said: “Considering the form and design and speaking comprehensively, I don’t think the plan should be part of the final round.” A number of judges agreed with me. The judge who had supported the entry did not contest the move; the plan was swiftly taken off the table. At this point, the final candidates came down to three. The judge who had originally backed the fourth place plan, gave his vote to the first place plan.

Even then, after we had narrowed down the finalists to three, a spirited exchange ensued regarding the first place plan. The reasons given for not supporting the plan were: “there is nothing new here”, “the mode of expression was mainstream 50 years ago, and is no longer relevant”, “there is a sense of déjà vu—which is worrisome” and such. As for opinions in support of the work: “great development power”, “a lot of thought has been given to development, making immediate embodiment possible”, “for us, the expression seems new and current”, “the use of black is commendable” (my own comment), “among the given development ideas, the one showing the black portion turning into a screen and used as a backdrop for projecting the faces of the winning athletes, is superb showing good use of space and direction” (my own comment), among many others. At the beginning of the session, on day two, Mr. Takuma Takasaki, who was a member of the panel and also creative director of the Organizing Committee,  made a remark, the gist of which was: “I’ve been thinking only about this plan since yesterday” expressing his support for the first place plan. Thus the plan became the focus of discussion, with supporters and non-supporters going back and forth exchanging opinions.

As for the second place plan, there were two judges who voted for it. But as far as I remember, no specific comments were ever given. One of the judges was adamant about pointing out the problems in the two other works beside the second place plan, so I asked the question: “I can see you are extremely critical of (those works). Then why don’t you tell us which plan you like. I would like to know the work you support and the reasons for our support.” There was a pause, after which the judge pointed to the second place plan, but did not give any commentary. So we never had a chance to hear the reasons for the zealous support from the person who was pushing the plan. The other supporting judge never made a comment, either. So we couldn’t hear about the reasons for choosing plan number two. Someone did point out that there were some resemblances with an existing wrapping paper used by a distribution business.

As for the third place plan, one supporter gave a strong appraisal of the work, which led to a spirited to and fro exchange with judges who opposed the idea. The lone supporter insisted “This is a great design” and never wavered. The judge admired its expression of form and the typography. The stream of praise claiming the validity of the design continued to the very end—which did not earn extra votes. But a judge beside the strong supporter came around and commented favorably on the design of the third place plan. One judge opposed the plan commenting, “It is a good design that gives a positive feeling but the question is its caliber—whether it is up to serving the theme of the Olympic Games”.

So the discussion continued in this manner. (During the Organizing Committee press conference held on August 26, it was revealed that discussions went on for some two hours) Yet supporters for plan number one, number two and number three didn’t budge. The differences were apparent and the chances for a breakthrough seemed slim. Finally, the judges who were supporting the second and third place plans, threw in the towel, backed down, and agreed to go with the first place plan. Thus a consensus was reached and the panel managed to choose a winner. That said, the decision was only reached when the opposing judges literally gave up, so it did leave a bad aftertaste. Right after the session, the Organizing Committee official told us that the names of the designers could not be released until the results were finalized. So the names of the creators of the winning designs remained unknown.

In relation to the significance of the single vote and its weight, there is something else I must reveal. On day one of the review session, one judge, due to pressing circumstances, could not make it. So the review was conducted by seven judges. On the second day, an Olympian and a Paralympian were supposed to join the session in the capacity of observers of the final round; thus the review would be conducted by a group of ten. Then we were told that due to a scheduling problem involving an urgent business trip, the two athletes would not be attending the session after all. So it was eight judges who were present for the final review session. What I am trying to say is, the original notion was to include representatives from the athletic community, an Olympian and a Paralympian, in selecting the official emblem for the Olympic Games, not a group made up of design specialists only. It would have been a perfectly fitting way to select the emblem for the Olympic Games. 

The actual review session that I covered here was being filmed by the Organizing Committee—I assume it is being kept as a video record.

Keiko Hirano

Keiko Hirano:
Designer/Visioner, Executive Director of Communication Design Laboratory
Hirano served on the panel that chose the official emblem for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics, which was ultimately withdrawn.