We are now a week in to this year’s Olympic Games, which continue at pace, with the medal tally beginning to stack up for Team GB. As I write this, Team GB have accumulated 13 medals with plenty more events to come over the next few weeks. In fact, by the time the Games close on 21 August, more than 200 nations and 10,500 athletes will have competed in 306 events across 28 sports at this year’s Games. So as sports fans and patriots continue to be inspired by the performances of Team GB athletes in Rio, we caught up with Peter Blake, designer of the 2016 Team GB 50p, to find out a little more about his inspiration for the coin design.
Hi Peter, tell us a little bit about yourself…
I’m Peter Blake, I work for Uniform as a Senior Creative and I have designed the official Team GB 50p piece for The Royal Mint.
I took the typical route to design, I studied at art college and then on to a design degree. My journey with Uniform began a couple of years ago, I was free-lancing and I was interested in something a little more long-term. I saw what Uniform were doing and was absolutely amazed by their creative output so I wanted to work for them and get involved with what they were doing…so here I am!
Tell us about your research for the Team GB 50p coin design…
We actually begin with a really academic research phase which is great for us as it helps us unearth stories or insights or facts and it helps us to build a few themes to base the designs on. And from there we go into a concept stage and for this design in particular we used a team creative session. So we had a small number of the design team come together, everyone gets the same brief, we allocate a few hours and through that session we go away, we come up with some ideas/images that we’re interested in – we’re really just looking for some quick ideas/answers to that brief – it’s a nice quick way to figure out what’s working and what’s not. It’s a really lovely process, you kind of separate the wheat from the chaff very quickly.
Did you use anything in particular for your inspiration?
Half way through the process, we came across this poem by an East London schoolgirl, Fope Jegede, that was written during the 2012 Olympics called ‘The Champion’s Story.’ We were really inspired by it and it helped us sum up the ambition and the emotion at the time of the Olympics – it was actually read out at the closing ceremony.
We found that the poem perfectly represented our own memories of the games, it really captured that moment in time and we used it as a source of inspiration.
How did you go about designing this coin? Talk us through the process…
We start with a lot of sketching and brainstorming and then we move on to computer design, working in programmes such as Photoshop and Illustrator.
We realised quite early through our research that it was actually possible to be very detailed with what you’re designing on the coin, so we realised we could actually be very precise and include a lot of detail especially important for shading, or for the tone of the athlete’s muscles.
We wanted to capture as much movement as possible, it was all about representing the athlete in that mid-flight kind of pose. It was really important to have a very dynamic, strong, agile position and I think the water actually helps that, because you can see a lot of movement and the explosive energy.
What was the most challenging aspect of the design?
The hardest bit is the small size that we were working too, normally you are working on a poster or a billboard, with a coin you’re really having to just leave in the most important parts of the design and take out the bits that don’t really matter, or contribute to the story you want to tell.
What made you choose to feature a specific sport on your design, and from this, what made you pick a swimmer?
We chose the swimmer because it was such a dramatic, iconic pose. It’s not meant to be a specific athlete at all – it was more about choosing an athlete that felt very poised and energetic rather than singling out an athlete, and, we’re pretty good at swimming so we thought a swimmer was perfect!
Talk us through the different elements of the design…
I think the most important element on the coin is our swimmer, and we wanted to capture him at the peak of the butterfly stroke. The consideration was that anything that was to be featured on the coin had to be iconic, so capturing the athlete at his most dynamic pose was really important to us and also conveying the energy of the swimmer, we did that through the movement and the water.
We discussed for quite a long time how to represent the nation and its hope and ambition. We thought that one thing that unifies us as a nation is our flag – so we included the Union Jack. It was really important to include that, it’s kind of meant to be symbolic of the nation hoping and wishing the athlete to succeed and get a gold medal.
Is the ‘U’ in the design for Uniform – is that intentional, was this a collaborative effort?
‘U’ for Uniform to represent our company, normally the initials of the designer go on the coin, but being such a collaborative effort we wanted to represent the company as a whole.
How does coin design differ from your other work?
It’s very different to what we normally do. To start with the canvas is a lot smaller, we normally have a series of pages or a few minutes to tell a story, with a coin you actually have to be a lot more clear and concise in your storytelling; it’s all about accentuating the details.
Producing the final coin requires some quite detailed craftsmanship, to be able to communicate to The Royal Mint’s sculptors how you want that coin to look in terms of the relief. So we produced some very detailed black and white images with our Architectural Visualisation team and we worked from there.
The Royal Mint have really hit the nail on the head in how they’ve translated the design from black and white to the relief sculpture; we’re really pleased with the result. Actually, we’re over the moon, it couldn’t be better, it’s great to finally hold that design in the palm of your hand!
How did you feel about designing the coin to mark this significant anniversary / event?
It is an absolute honour to design the coin to commemorate something as huge as Team GB entering the 2016 Rio Olympics. I think it’s just a huge spectacle, it’s on the world stage – it’s great to think that the coin will actually be in peoples’ pockets and that it will be collected by enthusiasts around the world – it’s a moment in time that won’t happen again and it’s great to have been a part of it.
What impact did the success of team GB in 2012 have on the design of this coin? Did you watch the London 2012 Olympics?
I think the whole country was massively inspired by 2012. As a designer, to know that I was working on a coin for Team GB, I felt massively overwhelmed, it was fantastic – such a good feeling to know that this could be the coin that represents our national team.
The 50p doesn’t have an edge inscription, but if it were to have one, what would you have chosen it to be?
If the coin had an edge inscription, I would definitely choose one of the lines from the Champions Story poem, I think it’s great. There is a line that reads, “ambition engraved in our hearts,” it talks about the athletes and the supporters and I think that would be a great line to have on the edge of the coin.
Are you a sports fan? What’s your favourite sport?
I’m a big sports fan; I’m a cyclist and a runner. I remember the last time from my childhood when we had this enthusiasm for sport it was all around Euros 96 and everyone was going crazy for that – it’s great to see how sport has had a resurgence in the last couple of years because of 2012.
How do you feel Team GB will do in the Rio 2016 Olympics this year, after their huge success at the last Olympics? Will you be watching?
If not the same success I think more, we have a great team this year. I’m really looking forward to seeing it, I think we’re going to smash it!
Since 2012, many of us have continued to remember the success of Team GB through finding the 29 different 50p sporting designs on our coin hunt. Now we can add to this with the official 2016 Team GB 50p, available in all commemorative finishes and soon to be found in our change.