Fully illustrated, interactive map of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi

Sochi interactive map

The Sochi Winter Olympics is a Games like no other. Controversies surrounding gay rights aside, the ceremony itself is rumoured to have cost the Russian government a staggering $51bn – more expensive than the last 21 Winter Olympics put together and eclipsing the super extravagant 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The ten-fold expansion of Russia’s most expensive ski resort, the building of new transport routes and the purchase of 400 snow machines to ensure that the Winter Olympics actually does see snow (despite the relatively mild climate of 10C in February) are just some of the reasons for the phenomenally high construction cost but there’re also lots of weird and wonderful features of the Games that are not so well known. Rather than us simply give you the facts in a pretty infographic, we wanted to create a fun and engaging resource that educates people about the event and lets you form your own opinion. Here’s how we did it.

The Challenge

After an internal meeting, we decided that we wanted to put together a self-initiated piece of work surrounding the Sochi Winter Olympics. We knew that we wanted to create an informative piece on the games, but we also knew that we didn’t want it to be a static infographic. We brainstormed some ideas and came up with the concept of an interactive digital map which users could explore and discover information on the games.

When we began our research into Sochi back in December 2013 we used Google maps to get an overview of Sochi and the surrounding areas. Even then, so close to the event, there wasn’t much to go on. Google maps was displaying images of stadia still in the early phases of construction rather than staggering feats of architectural beauty. We trawled through pages of street level images including event venues, cathedrals, schools, cars, buses, trees and houses to help us better understand the city, its colours and culture. Sourcing the correct information and data was also a real challenge and it took us many hours of investigation.

sochi ariel view
By using Google Maps we were able to trace out the exact location of the Sochi Olympic sites and surrounding areas.
sochi illustrated map
We used Street View to get down to street level and create assets based on true to life objects.
Sochi illustrated map
We also used Google images to source images of houses, churches and schools for the city areas.
Sochi illustrated map
The Bolshoy Ice Dome and surrounding Olympic site which was still under construction.
Sochi illustrated Adler Arena
The Adler Arena Skating Center

The Process

Using Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, we worked as a team to create a library of assets and different backdrops that were then built up into to a series of art boards with multiple layers including all of the various assets and intended touch points. Once we had our library of assets completed, we used Google Maps to trace out the geographical location of the Olympic site and surrounding areas. Important features such as the Olympic sites, mountain ranges, forest areas, transportation routes and cities were also marked out. Once we had a clear idea of the overall picture, we began to build up each area whilst referencing Google Maps and sourced images.

As the we developed the map, we built in new elements to help assist with the overall narrative of the piece. We wanted to create an experience for the user which built on the idea of exploration and discovery. By building in hidden details and subtle elements into the design, our aim was to engage our audience as best as possible.


Sochi interactive map
First stage map design with key points and geographical areas marked out.
Sochi illustrated map assets
Various assets created for the final map including trees, mountains, houses, cartography elements and a yeti.
sochi illustrated assets
Character designs
sochi illustrated map assets
Signage and type treatment for different areas and touch points.

The Results

The result is a fully illustrative digital map which the user can interact with and, in doing so, unearth everything brilliant and often bizarre about the Games. Similarly to Google Maps, users can zoom in and out to discover quirky facts and animations, whilst pop-up hyperlinks also enable them to continue their education across the web.

The map is unlike anything that’s been created before (as far as we’re aware) in the sense that it delivers a wealth of information in a more engaging format than the typical infographic. We wanted to carry through this idea of secrecy around the Games and, by encouraging the user to explore the map and discover the facts for themselves, explore the idea of history as subjective.

Sochi interactive map
Full view of the final map.
Sochi interactive mapSochi interactive map Sochi interactive map

The Reaction

At the time of writing (one week after launch) the site has received almost 15K visits, of which 13K are unique. That’s an average of approx. 2K hits a day. The map has also been picked up and featured on the following sites:

The Guardian

Design Week

Digital Arts

Creative Bloq

Thunder Chunky 

Thanks to everyone who’s blogged, tweeted, liked and shared the map. The impact and reaction to the project has far exceeded our expectations.

You can view the full map here.

Google Analytics from the first week after launching the map.
Google Analytics from the first week after launching the map.