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Lack of Signs at Olympic Games in Rio Adds to Confusion

03 February, 2023

At the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, 500,000 visitors from more than 200 countries will visit and many rely on signs. However by the opening ceremony only 15% of the signage had been installed at Olympic venues.


Few things are scarier than being lost in a foreign country, not speaking the language, and not seeing signage to tell you when, where, and how to get around safely. In the case of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, where 500,000 visitors from more than 200 countries have descended upon the city of 6 million, it's crucial to get people around safely and efficiently. Add to this the fact that most visitors will hail from South America, one of the most linguistically diverse areas in the world with 37 different language families, and you've got a real opportunity to speak clearly with signs as the primary form of visual communication.

However, a recent Business Insider article pointed out that organizers fell short on this signage task...by 85%. The organizing committee officials said that by the opening ceremony, only 15% of the signage had been installed at Olympic venues, as they were relying on a Ukrainian company to deliver the goods-and they didn't.

"Signs give the Olympics their unique branding and help fans get around," wrote the article's author Stephen Wade. "Signage was absent along part of Sunday's women's marathon route, relying on famous backdrops like Sugar Loaf Mountain to remind television viewers that the race was being run in Rio de Janeiro." He also noted, the race's finish at Rio's famous Sambadrome had no decor, except almost at the marathon's finish line.

The Olympics Committee isn't too amused, either. "It's a very unfortunate situation where the look could not be delivered on time," Olympic Games Executive Director Christophe Dubi said.

Signs Help People Get Around Safely

Beyond signage upping an event's look and feel, a lot of social science goes into getting people throughout their workspaces efficiently and safely, a process known in the manufacturing industry as "wayfinding." An article by New York Times writer David Segal echoes the importance of good signs, and how confusing things can be when signs are missing or incorrect.

Reporting from Rio, Segal muses: "It is not just the oopsy-daisy translations. (A list of prohibited items at a security check includes a ban on "white weapons.") What is odd is the curious absence of basic "Here's Where to Go" markers, which has added degrees of difficulty to navigating that seem totally unnecessary?The buses, for instance. They are an essential source of transportation, but for the first few days, there were stops that were nearly unmarked but for a green pole."

Visual Communication can Establish a Universal Language

A history of Olympic signs points to 1964, when Tokyo, Japan hosted the Olympic Games. As the birthplace of serious organization tools such as Kaizen and Kanban, Japanese designers and Olympics organizers set out to guide the way to anyone from any country in the world. They developed pictograms showing each sport in action and created a complete system of typography, colors, and symbols, thereby establishing a Universal Language.

In the case of multilingual signs appealing to diverse audiences, such as those needed at the Olympic Games, signs must be placed where everyone can read them. Additionally, they should meet the needs of multiple generations, including more mature eyes needing larger text. This is explained in Duralabel' article Are Your Safety Signs Seen by Everybody?

There is, however, a silver lining in Rio, as pointed out by the Lonely Planet news site. Although the signs aren't Olympics-specific, "all hope is not lost. Bilingual signs around the city as well as within the metro system have been in place since the 2014 FIFA World Cup?Within the context of the Olympic Games, volunteers abound throughout the venues and city to help visitors." While half a million visitors came to the Olympic Games in Rio, 6 million descended upon Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

Take Helpful Signage into Your Own Hands

Duralabel offers a multitude of ways to make visual communication clear to anyone at an international event, with DuraLabel signs and label printers allowing you to create custom bilingual signs on-demand. The DuraLabel 9000 prints large signs up to 9" wide. The Echo is a large format printer and enlarger, and is a true workhorse in emergency situations where visual communication needs are high. The DuraLabel Toro is a portable, network independent label and sign solution. DuraLabel printers also come with 1800+ symbols to help create universal signs which can be understood by many. You can also refer to the article in our newsroom that gives pointers on using Google Translator to Create Multilingual Signs in any language.