Otl Aicher served as chief graphic designer for the 1972 Munich Olympics. Faced with the task of creating thousands unique collateral pieces meant to to promote a variety of different events range of languages, Aicher and his team solved this problem by using a uniform color palette and a flexible grid capable of allowing the creation of different work, while maintaining a close family resemblance. They created a unique photo illustration process involving complex layering of color separations, which look surprisingly fresh 40 years later; though, at the time all of this work was done manually with mechanicals and over-lays as opposed to the photoshop we would use today. They were then printed using an average of 6, but as many as 12 spot colors in each piece including a special metallic silver. (This color palette was applied to everything from uniforms to buildings to vehicles and even dishes.)The type was set in Univers, which was consistently applied throughout.

The level creativity applied in the context of restraint gives us a vibrant program whose fully realize visual language communicates a single idea. This is good design.

The intent was to create a design so that all the visual applications related; Aicher did not feel standardisation resulted in ‘uniformity’ but rather a more flexible and coherent system.

“As a strictly designed grammar, the system allows free, playful application,” Aicher explained before the Munich Olympics in 1970. “This is comparable to ball games or chess, where fixed elements and an agreed set of rules allow playful freedom.”

Aicher sought advice from Masaru Katsumie, the designer charged with creating the concept of the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. Together they resolved fundamental organisational issues and Aicher’s team subsequently simplified the pictograms developed for the Tokyo Games which depicted typical movements for the various sports.

“This curious balance between obligation and freedom, which is characterised in sport, has its affinity in the area of aesthetics,” Aicher said. “The choice of our colours is precisely defined, however, we believe we have discovered a whole world of combinations.”

Aicher’s application of colour for the Games, although primarily an organising principle to divide the media, sports and technical departments, was easily identifiable and effective in communicating information. He extended the basic colour palate into his posters for sporting events but with subtle variations and blends to create complex, yet complimentary images.