Even though they specializes in graphic, interaction, and motion design projects geared towards social change, sometimes I think Amsterdam’s studio Thonik is more like an architect’s: they scrupulously consider how visual campaigns can alter the surface and fabric of a city, and they believe in graphic design’s power to restructure the way we interact with our urban surroundings.

Their recent identity for this year’s Nanjing Youth Olympic Games combines striking forms and interactive details to playfully transform the simple function of a poster into something transformative for an entire community. Organized by UNESCO, the Nanjing youth games sets out to bring multiple age groups and cultures together through a shared purpose.

Thonik designed a recurring character out of the Y of “Youth” and then used it as a component for others to build on. Participating kids painted over the “Y” of the posters with thick, black paint, combining mass-produced precision with their own individual forms and a graffiti instinct.

As Thonik explained on Identity Designed, “The youth of Nanjing would be able to elaborate on our design, making it theirs, and even more unique. It was the first time we created a design that was intended for others to build upon… but any little hesitation that we might have had was completely taken away when we saw their results.”

nanjing-youth-festival-19

The painted forms remind me of the scrawled, felt-tip pen images you see on posters in bathrooms and alleyways, but these a lot more charming and joyously collaborative. In a refreshing move, Thonik put the ultimate design in the hands of the community, and the results are cheeky, youthful, and unconventional.

In addition to posters, kids drew on the “Y” of flyers, flags, banners, and stickers, depicting everything from turtles, trees, books, light bulbs, birds, and stick-man figures with thick brushstrokes. For me, this is interactive, inclusive graphic design at its best.