Canada's Bold, Leafy Rebranding Of Its Olympic Team

If graphic design were an Olympic sport, Canada would at least medal.

On the Team USA Web site, you'll find this explanation of our uninspired Olympic logo: "[It] is made up of the letters 'USA,' the common abbreviation for the United States of America, and the Olympic Rings logo." (If that made your chest fill with patriotic pride, read no further.) We could stand to learn a thing or two from Canada, which recently rolled out its Olympic rebranding campaign, centered not on "CANADA" (you know, what the country's called) but the beloved maple leaf.

"The aesthetic needed to be bold but humble."

Canada began competing in the Olympics in the early 1900s, and, in overhauling the team's branding, Ben Hulse drew from more than a century of stories and iconography. The maple leaf stood out as the unifying element, both for its meaningful history (it appeared on Olympic athletes 60 years before becoming the symbol of the nation's flag) and for its versatility (it appears clean and classic on marks and intense and vibrant on mosaic graphics).

Hulse gave as much consideration to typography, delving into the team's history for pointers — like the blocky letterforms on athlete uniforms in the 1930s — and scouring the Internet for just the right typefaces. "The aesthetic needed to be sporty but not futuristic, historic but fashion forward, bold but humble," the designer tells Co.Design. That may sound like a string of buzzwords, but in point of fact, the mix of imagery speaks to that difficult balance.

The most exciting part of the process, according to Hulse, is devising a strategy that can evolve over the next year as the committee gears up for 2012: "We've explored how the mosaic graphic might be used from a system perspective — overlaying on photos, cropping, keeping the intention and energy of the lines — but playing with the notion of hiding and revealing the maple leaf depending on the application." Phew, sounds like good training for the branding Olympics — an event in which, we're sad to say, the USA wouldn't take home any medals.

Add New Comment


  • Ben Hames

    Its well executed work and its simplicity will definitely make it a standout, but as others have commented, not entirely original - see also City of Melbourne (Australia) identity, but then again, what is these days?

  • Joel Blair

    Wow what great work. Because our flag was designed in the 60's, the maple leaf and it's iterations will always a certain retro aesthetic, which is awesome.

  • Jack Ring

    Then how about we change the USA to the Bald Eagle? But wait, our President doesn't want us to project any notion of superiority. How about the new O and Stripes logo and we will redistribute our points won to those who didn't win any.

  • Anna K Donahue

    Love the negative maple leaf-how many colors have we seen it before? The image will work and make a statement. Thank the designers for not using rainbow colors.

  • Kaiser Wilheim

    Not sure how "bold" could be used to describe this. The maple leaf is bland, boring and uninspiring to most Canadians - the obvious, and yawn-inducing choice.
    The entire thing is slick, well packaged and completely soul-less and corporate. This really could have been designed by anyone, anywhere, by looking at wikipedia page for Canada. Major fail.

  • Joel Blair

    "The maple leaf is bland, boring and uninspiring to most Canadians" What? Were you here in 2010? Canadians are not, by nature, big flag wavers, but we heart the maple leaf.

  • Deke Rivers

    Ron, I'll add my name to list. I can't imagine how you could interpret the two as being the similar. The Canadian logo is built on the iconic maple leaf, as a Canadian I can assure you we've been using the maple leaf before the London 2012 logo was developed. 

    Comparing the prism effect to the jig saw puzzle london logo is a stretch. 

    Personally I think it's great refresh of a patriotic brand. The roots brand refresh in 1998 raised awareness to Canadian Olympic merchandise, this refresh will help and is way better than the stylized "canada" used in the last summer olympics.

    The real test will be the uniforms and merchandise.

  • Bryan Flynn

    Well done video by the design team, both regarding the insight and production.

    Ron, I too disagree with your assessment. True, both groups seek to employ bold applications of color. True, both groups attempt to exude energy. But side by side, these campaigns appear very divergent in their direction.

    London 2012, and event, embraces acidic color pairings and purposely awkward compositions which make sense from the perspective that it's an event, a spectacle. The Canadian team program, while rich and contemporary in color, comes across more reserved, allowing the athletes and program associates to make the statement.

    Each program has distinctly different purposes, and to claim both of these are cut from the exact same cloth seems prematurely dismissive.

  • Steven Olsen

    Ron I couldn't disagree more. That London 2012 logo is an embarrassment to the British graphics community and the mascots are scarier than clowns. All of this after the British media criticized Vancouver for the way Canada's winter games were managed. Say anything you'd like because FastCo Design ran a piece about how horrible the London 2012 logo is and how beautiful Canada's logo is. I'll go with the pros evaluation thank you.

  • Ron Leland

    As much as I like the brand refresh - the concept has been directly taken from the Wolff Olins work on the London 2012 logo.

  • Robert

    Ron - I have no idea where you are drawing parallels between this design and the London 2012 logo - I actually can't even find of a single similarity.
    Great work by the design team here - and fantastic explanation of the design process.