Designer of iconic Games logo
The name Colin Simon makes for a great Trivial Pursuit question. Simon created what is arguably one of New Zealand’s best-known logos, though very few peoplewould now knowwho the designer was.
Anyonewho can remember the 1974 Commonwealth Games in Christchurch will instantly recognise his distinctive red, white and blue design.
Simon, who died recently on the Ka¯piti Coast after battling dementia and cancer, came up with the design in 1971 after entering a competition.
In the years since, his logo has appeared in popular culture on everything from coffee cups, to women’s jackets, underwear, bottles of wine, commercial jets and T-shirts.
Long time friend mike me a chen says ‘‘designwas in his blood’’, and his impact on the design industry cannot be overstated.
Born in Scotland in 1938, Colin Winton Simon expected to be the dux of his school and was planning to study architecture.
His father John, however, was working innew Zealand helping his sister to run a petrol station, near the Basin Reserve in Wellington. He summoned the family over, and Simon arrived with hismother, Christine, in 1953, aged 15.
The Upper Hutt Brass Band met him at the wharf after hearing of his awardwinning trumpet and euphonium-playing in Scotland.
J Ilott Advertising, then one of the country’s leading ad agencies, also heard of the young man’s talents and offered him a cadetship.
A big agency that tackled advertising for radio, television, print and packaging, it was the perfect learning ground for Simon. Every aspect of a job was done inhouse and the business had big-name clients like Colgate, Wattie’s, NAC and Shell.
Simon soon proved his ability as a designer, but his life changedwhen he went on a blind datewith his wife-to-be Carol Booker.
Her English parents had been here for about two years but had not settled in, and returned to England with Carol. Simon followed and they soon married in Kent, before returning to New Zealand, where Ilott was again happy to have him. He soon became creative director and established a highly regarded career.
Clients included many of New Zealand’s leading companies, government offices and businesses, including the Civil Aviation Authority, Telecom and BNZ. His masterpiece was the logo for the 1974 Commonwealth Games.
In 2006, he told The Dominion Post the idea came to him when he was working on another project, playingwith the letter space between the numerals seven and four.
He saw how, together, they looked like Z. ‘‘I turned it the other way and I had an NZ.’’
Put four of them together in red, white and blue and there was the Union Jack.
Then he ‘‘fiddled with it somemore’’ and saw the Roman numeral 10, an X, emerge through themiddle. It was the 10th Commonwealth Games, to be held in 1974, and Simon had just come up with the winning design.
Meachen says that, although he was a talented designer, his skills werewideranging.
He was also awatercolour artist working mainly on landscapes and paintings of typical New Zealand scenes, such as fishing boats, family beach scenes and homes.
His mind was constantly working on visual ideas for design clients, but also such things as clever word plays and cartoons, or creative family birthday cards.
An activemember of thehutt Civic and Hutt City Brass Band, and the National Brass Band of NZ, he also designed pottery for Crown Lynn. His pottery is in Te Papa and the Auckland Museum.
In 1981, Simon left Ilott and started his own design company inwellington.
But it will be his 1974 logo that he will be remembered for, says Meachen. It has been recognised by design commentators and academics as a significant benchmark in New Zealand design history, and still appears on T-shirts, and other promotional merchandise.
‘‘He changed the direction of postmodern design with the Games logo. New Zealand design was stuck in a rut, following the trends of the United Kingdom . . . But Colin’s logowas a complete original.’’
Despite its success, Simon did not copyright it and the only money he received was the first prize of $1000 from the competition organisers.
Longtime friend and designer Gus van de Roer describes Simon’s ability to imagine a design and then draw it as ‘‘incredible’’, and a skill that could not be learned. ‘‘I remember sitting in a cafe in Raumati and someone asked him about a logo, and he just sketched it beautifully.’’
In the age before computers, the industrywas more focused on creativity than it is now, and his ability to see a design in his head and then draw it accurately was a huge advantage.
‘‘He was a wonderful person, with a very big creative talent and that made him a great person towork with.’’
As well as the initial impact, van de Roer notes that the Games logo had a second burst of life when there was a national debate over a possible new flag.
People were looking for a unique New Zealand image, and one that received a lot of attention was Simon’s logo.
Meachen remembers his friend as a great character and a person whowas fun to be around. As well as being a talented designer, passionate about his ideas and certain of his own judgment, he was a fan of brass and classical music, with an ‘‘immovable’’ dislike of guitars.
Simon is survived by wife Carol, sons Andrew and Richard, grandchildren Thomas, Stephanie, Natalie, Lucy, Ella, great-granddaughter Bella, and brother Robert and sister Nanette. – By Nicholas Boyack and Kate Green
Sources: Mike Meachen, Gus van de Roer and Stuff archives.