Pictograms made their debut at the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. They were created as a way to “communicate to a global audience without using written language,” which is especially helpful for a large gathering of people from around the world who all speak different languages and use different alphabets.

Since Tokyo 1964, pictograms have been a staple of the Olympics with each host city creating their own version of the pictograms to further the visual identity of their Olympic Games. 

The pictograms serve two purposes: functionality and identity.

For years, host cities have created a beautiful balance between functionality and the identity of the Games when creating their unique icons for each sport. That is until now.

Paris 2024 has just released their pictogram design. While it gets it right in the unique design and identity of the Paris Games, it falls extremely short is functionality. It completely misses the mark on the original purpose of the pictograms: to easily communicate without written language.

By being overly designed, the Paris 2024 Games have created complicated iconography that is difficult to distinguish between, especially at a small scale or at a distance. 

For icons to be good, they need to be functional above all else. To be functional, they need to be:

  • Easily recognizable
  • Simple
  • Scalable
  • Clearly understood without words

While the Paris 2024 pictograms may be easily recognizable on the side of a building, they can be hard to distinguish on a button that shows up on your phone screen. 

And yes, they can be understood without words, but I would argue that not all of the pictograms can be understood right away without clarification or looking at the icon longer. 

Also, when quickly glancing at the pictograms, it is hard to distinguish one sport from another without having to take a second look or inspecting the icon.

Doing something different, in this case, causes more confusion than clarity. This is a common issue that happens when brands want to break the mold.