When Less is Less

“When I first saw the Sochi Winter Olympics logo, I was taken by surprise.” — Guo Chunning, designer of the 2008 Beijing Olympics logo

Sochi Logo 01B

In August 2012, I opined about the controversial logo for the 2012 London Summer Olympics. At the time, I couldn’t imagine an Olympics logo ever causing as much consternation. Well, I was wrong. This year’s Winter Olympics logo has really got people scratching their heads.

Although the design is rather clever—the way 2014 is mirrored in Sochi—it’s so flat, monochromatic (except for the obligatory rings) and minimalist. And frankly, it’s so unOlympics. For crying out loud, it’s a web address. And while some proponents have hailed it for ushering in the “digital age” and a “new Russia,” all it reminds me of is the blocky, Cyrillic lettering on old Russian posters that ushered in Stalin, communism and decades of oppression.

To be fair to the design team at Interbrand Agency, their original idea was to create a much more complex and sophisticated design. From the beginning, the team vacillated between a traditional design inspired by Russian Khokhloma (brightly-colored floral patterns on a black background) and a more modern interpretation which melded images of outdoor activities, native animals and Russian landscape. However, after more than ten revisions, a “more future-oriented” logo emerged, far from the team’s original concept.

The persistent meddling and the final decision came courtesy of the Sochi 2014 Organizing Committee. In a press release, they asserted 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.” Sorry, I’m not seeing it. I’m not buying it either. I think this is yet another example of a logo’s rationale being manufactured after it’s been approved. And this one is off the charts!

According to the Moscow Times, many Russian bloggers ridiculed the logo for being over-simplistic or difficult to read. It shouldn’t require a graphic design degree to understand that an Olympics logo should reflect the unique character of the host country, the athletic events involved or whether it’s the Winter or Summer Games. Many observers have suggested an alternate design by the Moscow firm Studio Transformer (five1 flaming2 feathers from a firebird3 dancing in a circle4 to form a wreath5) would have been more in tune with the Olympic tradition.

Sochi Logo 02

I heartily agree.

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1 Representing the five continents that participate in the Games
2 Representing the Olympic fire
3 Representing a prominent character in Slavic fairy tales
4 Representing Khorovod, a traditional Russian circle dance symbolizing unity
5 Representing the laurel wreath of the victor