Behind Sochi’s Futuristic Logo

Anyone who has watched an Olympics whose vision is sharp will notice that the logo for Sochi 2014—which appears in every stadium, on every ticket, and on tens of millions of dollars’ worth of Olympic merchandise—is remarkably different from those of previous Olympics. It contains no drawing and features only unassuming lowercase lettering, the five Olympic rings, and a Web address.

Guo Chunning, who designed the “Dancing Beijing” logo for the Beijing 2008 Games, has researched the history of Olympic logos going back to the beginning of the modern Games, in 1896. He believes that, with the exception of Mexico City 1968 and London 2012, this is the first time a logo has lacked drawn elements. (Mexico City and London, however, used lettering that resembled artwork.)


Christoph Marti, a Swiss member of the design team at Interbrand Agency, whose proposal for the logo prevailed over five other finalists, shared with me a few pages from his notebook that show the complex evolution of the lettering. The design team, which included eight members from around the world, originally had a much more sophisticated idea in mind. The team vacillated between a floral, traditional design (on the left), which drew inspiration from Russian Khokhloma art, and a more modern interpretation (on the right), which melded images of human activity such as partying and sailing with icons of native animal life and the Russian landscape. After more than ten revisions, according to Marti, a “more future-oriented” logo, favored by the Organizing Committee, emerged, far from the original concept.



Multiple iterations are normal for Olympic brands. The original concept goes through layers of revisions suggested by multiple parties: the Organizing Committee (which typically owns the brand, with no residuals to the creator), the host country’s political echelon, and the International Olympic Committee. It can be difficult to identify the inspiration behind the design. Often, a rationale for the logo is imposed after the logo has been approved.

The Organizing Committee—which executes the Games and coördinates closely with the I.O.C.—portrayed the final Sochi logo, unveiled in December, 2009, as a grand collaboration fashioned by an “expert council” made up of “high profile marketing specialists, famous athletes, and representatives of large multi-national companies, working both in Russia and abroad.”

Some will interpret the type for “Sochi” and “2014” as mirroring each other, portraying Russia as a country of contrasts—seashore and mountain slope, snow and sand. Others might see the mirroring as symbolic of Sochi’s location on the Black Sea.

When the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee unveiled the logo, it described it as representing “the first digital brand in the history of the Olympic Movement,” corresponding “to the strategic vision of the Organizing Committee to host the most innovative Games in history, which reflect the character of the new Russia and deliver positive, sustainable change.” A press release asserted that the logo “illustrates the connection between the past and the future, traditions and innovations. It reveals different images of Russia, forming a holistic representation of the country” and “symbolizes that Russia is an amazing country, in which kindness and sincerity are always valued.” Quite a burden for one logo to carry.

The symbol uses a typeface that resembles the Revue font, according to John Reinhardt, a book designer. Revue, designed in 1968 by Colin Brignall, is typically used for posters and billboards. These days, to woo the Internet generation, brand logos need to not only fit on posters, hats, clothing, and jumbo-TV screens but work successfully on tablets and iPhones. At, users can view each day’s Olympic program and receive up-to-the-minute results, background information on each sport, and biographies of the athletes.

After the logo was released, according to the Moscow Times, many Russian bloggers ridiculed it for being simplistic or difficult to read. International response was muted. Guo Chunning, the Beijing 2008 designer, gave me his thoughts about the Sochi design:

When I first saw the Sochi Winter Olympic logo, I was taken by surprise. There was no graphic image, as one would expect. It was very simple, just blue lettering plus the five-ring Olympic emblem. Maybe the blue color symbolized Russia and the winter season, I thought … Following the name Sochi with “dot ru” ( cleverly uses the Web address to add a national identity to the logo, so that the entire world knows that it is the Sochi in Russia.

Guo feels the logo could have included other design elements that reflect the special characteristics of Sochi, the Olympic events, and the Winter Games in general. The image in Guo’s “Dancing Beijing,” for example, symbolizes the traditional Chinese seal, used for millennia to validate official documents. Guo’s team worked for many hours to achieve just the right coil in the legs of the athlete suggested in the seal. Attention to such fine details, Guo said, would have conveyed the uniqueness of the Sochi Winter Games and left behind a true cultural legacy. Curiously, this is what the elaborate early versions of the Sochi logo set out to accomplish and later abandoned.

“It might be that the Sochi logo design, in its simplicity, has mapped out a new direction and thought process for Olympic logos,” Guo said. “How to integrate innovation with tradition is the eternal problem that logo designers face.”

Olympic logos, once chosen, aren’t always greeted with applause. When the London 2012 logo was revealed, in 2007—having cost four hundred thousand pounds, or eight hundred thousand dollars, to create—a petition circulated in Great Britain that was signed by more than forty-eight thousand people to have the logo scrapped and redesigned. The effort never gained traction.

While the Sochi logo hasn’t generated a groundswell of opposition as in London, some felt that an alternate design, by the Moscow firm Studio Transformer, would have been more in tune with the Olympic tradition. Most of those who recorded their reactions on design sites such as Logo Design Love came out in favor of tradition.

What do you think, reader? Left or right?


Jonathan Kolatch has written on the Olympics for the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times. His recent books are “China Mosaic” and “At the Corner of Fact & Fancy.”

Photograph: Robert Cianflone/Getty

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About Zoran Opalic

Professional in design and publishing industry. Conceptualize and orchestrate designs and redesigns that effectively reinforce and build brand images. Proven ability to drive record-high campaign in increasing publication sales and execute successful product launches...


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