Pictograms first appeared at the 1948 London Olympics and came into wide use, and necessarily so, in Tokyo in 1964, with symbols for individual sports developed by Masasa Katzumie and Yoshiro Yamashita. But it was eight years later that Otl Aicher and his team created a pictograph style of such breathtaking elegance and clarity that it would never be topped.
Co-founder of the Ulm design school and consultant to Braun and Lufthansa, Aicher was appointed as design director of the 1972 Munich Games — (West) Germany’s first major “contribution” to the world stage since WWII — with the daunting task of creating an entire visual universe for the event that would cast the country in a new and progressive light. Interiors, posters, maps, uniforms, flags, wayfinding signs, souvenirs, on-screen graphics, logotypes, vehicles and the Olympic torch itself were all part of the design effort.
At the center of Aicher’s program, no less than 180 pictograms depicting sporting events as well as services indications shone by their elegance and set a new standard for reductionism and clarity. Based on a strict orthogonal and diagonal square grid , they managed to reduce the complex movements of the human body to their purest geometrical expression with an astonishing visual efficiency. Easily understood by individuals from all nations and culturally neutral, they also had the immense advantage of being effortlessly reproducible on all formats and in all sizes. As Aicher noted, contrarily to what one might think, reducing the image of a man down to a strict geometrical form wasn’t a limitation of the possibilities of graphical representation but a testament to its resourcefunless:
Although characterising a type of sport via its form of movement is a difficult proposition anyway even without these additional graphic restrictions, we have, nevertheless, always been able to find a symbol that is instantly understandable without a great learning process - even for bizarre disciplines.
The cycling pictogram, for example, shows Aicher expert command of the grid. With a couple of small tweaks, the spirit of racing and all the meaningful nuances of its movement are precisely captured: while the head is the same diameter as the shoulders, its misalignement makes for a more realistic depiction (a cyclist looks up, even while sprinting, no matter what the grid may dictate). Like all the other sports pictograms from the 1972 Olympic Games, the human figure appears in black, while the equipment (ball, net or in this case a bike) is outlined. In reducing all form to this degree, Aicher has ensured the longevity of his work. Is the cyclist wearing toe-clips? Is the bike lugged steel or carbon? Is this a track bike or a road bike? Does it have gears? Is the top tube slanted or horizontal? None of it matters, because none of those details are there. The pictogram has not aged, because Aicher didn’t allow it to. While product designers largely depend on planned obsolescence, Aicher rejects it. It’s for this reason that Aicher’s pictograms can and are still widely used today. Inclusion, once again, was part of the design’s intended purpose. (via)
The SplinterBike has no screws, bolts, metal, plastic or rubber – every single part is wooden; wheels, frame, gears. Even, painfully, the saddle. At 31kg, and with one fixed gear and no brakes, it’s unlikely to win awards for practicality, but as an engineering exercise it’s a marvel.
It began as a £1 bet last year between joiner Michael Thompson and friend James Tully as they watched the Tour of Britain zoom past Michael’s front garden. Michael had always claimed he could make anything from wood, and James called his bluff in a big way. More than 1,000 man hours and a considerable amount of skill and ingenuity later, the SplinterBike was ready to ride.
The axles are made of the hardwood ekki; the cogs, wheels and frame are birch ply; and oily ironwood was used in place of metal bearings where moving parts met. The pedals and handlebars were made from an old broom handle salvaged from Michael’s shed. The trickiest part was the drivetrain – how do you make a wooden chain? Well, by cunningly replacing it with a huge 128-tooth cog that links the chainring and the gear on the rear wheel. In fact there are six cogs, as the drivetrain is replicated on both sides of the frame to add strength.
Now that they have what they believe is the world’s first rideable wooden bicycle (others have been built that were too fragile to use) they intend to set a land speed record.
This has proven harder than anticipated, despite no existing record to beat. “Originally we thought ‘wooden bike, bang it down the road, follow it with a car, watch the speedo – that’s it, job done’,” said Michael. “But it doesn’t work like that. Not if you want to be going into the history books. There are a lot of rules.” Now they need £7,500 to pay for timekeeping and adjudication. They hope that a sponsor will come forward, but also want to raise as much money as possible for disaster relief charity ShelterBox.
The 4:1 gear ratio should allow James to get the SplinterBike up to 31mph – if it stays in one piece, and if he’s done enough training. “It should go the speed, it’s all down to James now. I’ve done my bit, there’s a lot of work that’s gone into it,” said Michael. Having seen it in the flesh I’m optimistic it will run. The build quality and design are fantastic – but, scarily, it has never been ridden because of a lack of a venue with a smooth enough surface.