The Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympic Games never happened. They were postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
But the preparations still went ahead years in advance, in order to ensure that everything could run smoothly.
And a British illustrator, Darren Newman, created a logo for the event that many people think looks far better than the one that was officially commissioned.
His design is so clever because it incorporates the five Olympic rings in the traditional colors — blue, yellow, black, green and red — as well as the solid red circle from the Japanese flag.
The crimson-colored disk in the center of the Japan’s national flag represents a red-hot sun in the sky.
This is because Japan is known as the Land of the Rising Sun — which is a fairly literal translation of the country’s name in its native language, 日本.
The unofficial design also creates the digits of the number 2020 from the first four rings, celebrating the year that the games were due to take place.
The two circular rings on the lower row naturally become zeros, because the round shape already looks so similar to the letter O and the digit 0.
Then the first two rings on the upper row gain an elegant combination of tails and spacing in order to become twos.
So Darren Newman managed to include an astonishing array of relevant details and symbols into a single design without making it appear in any way forced or contrived.
On the other hand, the official logo looks more overblown, because it contains three different contrasting elements stacked on top of one another: a geometric illustration, some large text and the ordinary Olympic rings.
There had, in fact, been some controversy surrounding the creation of the official logo, after the first designer was dismissed because his work was thought to have been heavily influenced — which is a polite way of saying copied — from the logo of a small Belgian theater.
Yet the unofficial logo was created simply as a side-project for its British graphic designer to hone his craft and show off his talent.
Maybe it’s not fair, however, to compare the two — or three — designs as though they’re equivalent, because they were created under completely different constraints.
For one thing, it’s hardly surprising that at least one of the many thousands of professional illustrators around the world would manage to come up with something that turned out to be especially interesting and intriguing.
The wisdom of the crowd suggests that large numbers of skilled people will tend to produce better results on average than even the most skilled individual.
More importantly, the official design wouldn’t have been able to riff on the Olympic rings, because there are strict rules in place insisting that the rings should not be altered or distorted in any way.
This is because they are such instantly recognizable symbols of the world-wide Olympic movement.
They are as iconic as the Olympic flame that is ceremoniously carried into the sports stadium at every opening ceremony.
So the Olympic logo, when its design has been finalized, is often presented next to the traditional Olympic rings on posters and other marketing material, and this means that it needs to be distinct from them and stand out on its own.
It needs to be unique and perhaps represent something about the spirit of the host city.
However, sometimes breaking the rules allows you to do creative things that wouldn’t have been possible if you’d stuck to the way that things are always supposed — and expected — to be done.
Creativity is all about challenging preconceived ideas and straying beyond the usual way of doing things, trying to break new ground.
So it’s right to be impressed by this ingenious design that was created by a talented illustrator in his spare time.
It’s an example of creativity at its very best.