002 Duration of contest was way short

The duration of the first design contest to choose the official emblem for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo was about two months, from September 12, 2014 to November 11, 2014. The official logo was ultimately scrapped. The process was set up so that participants only received application guidelines after entering the contest. Considering the time lag from entry to actual receipt of the guidelines, contest participants only had 1.5 months at most which could be devoted to creating their designs. A few days before the deadline, it was discovered that the word “Paralympics” was misspelled in the application guidelines. An unprecedented mishap. All things considered, some contestants were forced to come up with their logo designs in less than a month. I heard this from one of the contest participants after the emblem fiasco came to light. I feel that for a design competition of this caliber, a logo for the Olympic Games, allowing designers only 1 to 2 months for development, is too tight a schedule. It is just not feasible. I could imagine how the participants, all designers with thriving careers, had to struggle in order to carve out time from their extremely busy schedules.

At the first meeting when I was asked to be part of the selection panel, I raised some questions regarding the terms of the competition. One of my concerns was the short duration of the competition. The person in charge, who had come seeking my participation, explained it this way: “We considered the time when we will start using the official emblem, and the time needed to conduct a detailed screening for international trademark registration and came up with this timeline.” Time needed for design development should have been given a much higher priority. But this was not the case. As a result the duration of the contest was cut short. The whole perspective is based on prioritizing marketing; it seems like contracts with official sponsors come first.

I tried to offer my opinion, based on my experience in design development. My advice was: “We are talking about developing logos that will be deployed widely on an international basis. A timeframe of 1 to 2 months is way too short. The rule of thumb is to offer at least 6 to 10 months; I’d say 3 months is the absolute minimum.” The person in charge would not budge, explaining how difficult it was to change decisions that had already been made. I should mention that the request for me to join the panel came on September 3, 2014. A press release pertaining to the members of the panel and application guidelines was set for September 12. So I was asked to join the panel just nine days before the press release. I felt pressured into accepting. I knew if I declined, the panel would be left dangling with only seven members. I said yes. This back story in itself shows how the project was suffering from lack of preparation.

I was told, on many occasions, that experts were weighing in with their advice. If such experts were indeed design specialists, I cannot understand why they did not offer their expert advice regarding the short duration of the contest. I understand that the competition dates were decided at an official meeting of the Organizing Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games Olympics. An opinion voiced by someone like me, without any power or authority, could do little to overturn the decision. But I still believe that contest participants must be given sufficient time if we want to see great results. 

According to the press release dated October 6, the deadline for the new competition is December 7. (Application guidelines are to be released around October 12 to 16.) The duration of the contest is again, less than two months. The new competition is proceeding according to a similar timeline as before. Have we conducted thorough verifications and learned from the issues that arose last time around?

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.