Design Politics: Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games Logo Contest

In this post, we will overview the sour events surrounding the Sochi Winter Olympics Games, explore the role of design in political communication and show case the best of our Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Logo Design Contest. The brief for this logo contest? To simply redesign the Sochi logo to better reflect Russia's new politics.

Controversy Hampers Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics

Recently Russia's President, Vladmir Putin and the country's politicians passed into law the banning of 'gay propaganda' such as public expressions of 'non-traditional sexual relations'.

From waving your rainbow flag in St Petersburg Square to holding your gay / LBGT partner's hand in public, you are being watched and could face arrest in Russia. It's believed that expressions of same-sex attraction or affection risks offending religious people and unduly influencing the sexuality of Russian teenagers. (Homosexuality was decriminalised in Russia in 1993 but anti-gay sentiment is widespread).

If you're caught, 'offenders' face arrest, heavy fines and jail time. Understandably there was an international outcry from nation-states, human rights groups and LBGT groups. A spate of celebs publicly declared their oppostion to the law, including well-know gay British actor, Stephen Fry, who implored British Prime Minister David Cameron in an open letter to take immediate action and boycott the games. Read Fry's letter here.

The actress Tilda Swinton risked Russian arrest as she stood in St Petersburg Square displaying the Rainbow flag, showing her solidarity with Russian LGBT people and LGBT foreigners who has also protested and found themselves the subject of police arrest.

As the Winter Olympics draws closer, we thought this was a sad turn of events for what should no doubt be a happy occasion for athletes, vistors, press and others wwill attend the games in the Olympic spirit - "To take part". International Olympic Committee head Jacquies Rogge said, "Sport is a human right and it should be available to all regardless of race, sex or sexual orientation." We agree so we thought we'd ask our diverse community of designers what they thought of Russian's actions.

Design and Politics

Communication, be it written, verbal or visual, particularly the latter, can be persuasive at bringing forth action and canny political operators understand the power of an iconic design to get their message across. A picture tells a thousand words as the saying goes.

In World War One and World War Two, we saw how graphic design and illustration was used amongst other things, to recruit workers. See the 'We Can Do It' war poster that was used to recruit women on the homefront to munitions factories. Later in the 20th Century this image was revived by the women's movement of the 1960s and 70s to to promote their cause.

Irish artist, Jim Fitzpatrick's illustration of Argentine political activist and guerilla fighter, Che Guevara, has immortalised forever the 'freedom fighter', who died in 1967, with the iconic image of Guevara's face found on t-shirts, bags, posters, wall stencils etc in almost every country in the world.

A contemporary and famous example is Sherphard Fairey's 'Hope' poster which features a stencil-like rendering of President Barack Obama, who was at the time running for President. This image became the touchstone for people around the world who supported Obama's agenda and the end of the second George W. Bush term.

War Recruitment Poster

"We Can Do It" US war time
propaganda poster
by J. Howard Miller in 1943

Iconic two-toned portrait of
Latin American political activist
Che Guevara by the Irish artist
Jim Fitzpatrick in 1968.

'HOPE' Poster by Shephard Fairey
graphic designer, for Barack Obama's
2008 Presidential campaign.

Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics Logo Redesign Contest

When the first logo was launched it was widely panned as boring. When international branding agency - Interbrand - re-designed the logo to reflect Sochi's geography and a global web-savvy audience with the emphasis on the Russian domain address. You can decide for yourself and compare the logo used to bid for the games and the current Sochi logo in use.

War Recruitment Poster

Left: Original Olympic bid design. Right: The current Sochi 2014 Olympics Logo.

And the winner is... P.O Design from the USA

The winner of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics contest is P.O. Design from the USA for his awesome remaking of the Sochi Olpymic logo co-ops a treasured Russian icon - the Matryoshka Doll - which we thought was clever, subversive and well executed technically and as a design concept. Well done P.O Design!

P.O Design tells us:

I call this design 'Olympic Matryoshka Doll'. I think this design accurately reflect Russia’s harsh attitude. In US it was Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

Now in Russia it's something like Don't Show Yourself. " is your Matryoshka coverall". No face - no personality. No identity.

Let's end this nonsense! And not only in Russia, let's think internationally - Iran, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe or Uganda.

P.O.Design (USA)

I call this design 'Olympic Matryoshka Doll'.
I think this design accurately reflects Russia's
harsh attitude.

Get designs like these... Start your design contest now!

Best of the rest ...
Alternative Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Logos

Bluejet (Australia)

Gay pride colours in Olympic rings forming a
happy sunburst.

BigBlueCurrant (UK)

Applying the rainbow flag to the current logo
and changing the Olympic rings.

P.O.Design (USA)

'The Rainbow Cell' where offenders face
arrest and jail time.

Buck Tornado (Canada)


Cap (Canada)

The 'esses' if viewed from the right creates an
interesting shape. This design replaced the
Olympic Rings with the LGBT symbols. It
retains the overall 2014 concept so that the
issues is easily recognizable.

Natasha (New Zealand)

The male and female symbols representing the
people participating and the combined symbols
represent the transgender people participating.

Thank you to the 33 designers who took part in the Sochi logo design contest! The USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand designers provided the stand-out designs. Hat tip to Bluejet, Cap, BigBlueCurrant, Buck Tornado, Natasha and of course our winner P.O.Design!

Which was your favorite protest logo? Do you think designers should keep their designs ideology-free and not involve themselves with the business of  political communication, or perhaps the two are inseparable? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

Written by Jo Sabin on Monday, September 30, 2013

Jo Sabin is the Community Manager at DesignCrowd. With more than ten years’ experience working with some of Australia’s finest startups, Jo has been instrumental in meeting DesignCrowd’s objectives in Australia and abroad. Get in touch via Google+.