Sochi_logo_for_the_2014_Winter_OlympicsThe Sochi Olympics are the top story this week. The athletes and Russia’s preparations may be the headlines, but the logo for this year’s Olympics is getting attention, too. Compared to previous Olympics logos, the Sochi 2014 logo is strikingly modern. It features futuristic type with letters and numbers that partially mirror each other. And, it’s the first Olypmics logo to feature the web address as part of the logo. And, it’s the first to say no to hand drawn elements. It’s the Olympics meets flat design.

The New Yorker wanted to find out. They recently featured an article detailing the design process for the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics logo. It turns out that the original proposed logo design was much more traditional and ornate.

The design team at the Interbrand Agency created the winning design for the logo. Initially, the logo was supposed to represent Russia’s traditional culture and artistic history, much like the 2008 Beijing Olympics logo. The lettering was going to incorporate floral design inspired by Khokhloma art. Or, the team knocked around the idea of incorporating Sochi’s resort culture via images of animals, beaches, etc.

But, the Olympics Organizing Committee didn’t want this traditional approach. Instead, they requested a modern, futuristic design. There was a period of frustration within the Olympic bureaucracy as everyone tried to find a compromise. There were a lot of cooks in the kitchen, so to speak: the Russian government, the International Olympic Committee, marketing consultants, athletes, and more. So many people gave input that it became difficult to trace the rationale for a logo comp.

Because there was such an incoherent design process, we’ll probably never know how the logo with the semi-mirroring effect came to fruition, or what it’s meant to represent. Perhaps the mirroring is meant to play on Sochi’s seaside resort town status. Or, maybe it represents Russia’s population, which is full of cultural, geographic, and political contrasts.

The December 2009 logo unveiling didn’t really shed any light on the process or the design thinking. The press release claimed that the logo “illustrates the connection between the past and the future, traditions and innovations.”

We could speculate forever about the origins of the logo, but perhaps it’s truly just a practical design choice. The minimalist design is very digital friendly, and still works well in print. The logo has to be used on so many applications (from athlete uniforms to skating rinks to websites and more) that it makes sense to create a logo that can bridge all of the mediums.