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.

About the author

A former editor at such publications as WIRED, Bloomberg Businessweek, and Fast Company, Belinda Lanks has also written for The New York Times Magazine, The New York Observer, Interior Design, and ARTnews.