A Different Look at the Olympics: Behind the Scenes Stories of Design and Innovation

Olympic inspiration doesn't end with the Games.

Beyond feats of athleticism and stories of triumph, the Olympic Games provide a platform for remarkable innovations happening across the globe.

From how spectators watch and networks broadcast to how athletes compete and train, and through the transformation of host cities, ingenious applications of design, technology, science, engineering, and behavioral economics can be seen throughout the entire experience.

Now that the 2020 summer Olympic Games in Tokyo have ended, and the Paralympics are beginning, here's an entirely different perspective for exploring the Games and keeping up with the latest in global innovation and design.

This is what I'm reading.


ceremony design focus olympics

"[The Olympic] Design Challenge: Build a unique visual language to distinguish each edition of the games and to reflect the host city.” (Olympics.com)

Ceremony, Symbolism & Identity

  • [Video] Design Focus: Look of the Games (S1 - EP 12 ) | Olympics.com
  • Why Are People Obsessed with the Olympics? | Popular Science
  • Inside the Surprisingly Complex Engineering of an Olympic Torch | Popular Science
  • Olympic Medals - History, Design, Photos | Olympics.com
  • These Olympic Pictograms Changed Urban Design Forever | Smithsonian
  • Olympic Reads: Books to Relive and Learn About the Games | Options
  • A Stirring Moment Preserved Forever Through Typography: Morisawa, the Official Font Provider for Tokyo 2020 | Olympics.com
  • A Champion in Accessible Design, the New U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum | Smithsonian


Village - LA Olympics 1984 - Street

“Traffic management added to the ephemeral feeling of regional achievement that was catalyzed by the Games' design philosophy. However, the streets and freeways would return to their jam-packed norms after the Games, something L.A. has struggled with in the decades since.” (KCET)

Host City Infrastructure

  • How the Gleeful Aesthetic of L.A.’s 1984 Olympics Unified a Sprawling City | KCET
  • [Photos] How the Olympic Village Has Evolved Over the Years | Gazette-Times
  • The Tokyo Olympics Will Merge Ancient Heritage & Modern Innovation | Euro News
  • The Economics of Hosting the Olympic Games | Council on Foreign Relations
  • Olympic Village Plaza Built with 40,000 Pieces of Donated Japanese Timber | dezeen
  • The Olympics and the Evolving Ideology of Sustainability | UX Collective
  • Earthquake Simulators Help Prepare Visitors to Japan for the Worst | AccuWeather
  • Organisers Seek to Prevent Heatstroke with AI Gadget | Reuters
  • Smileys Helped Narita Airport Prepare for the Olympics | Airport-technology.com
  • Here’s What Happens to Olympic Villages After the Games End | Forbes


volleyball motion sensors and positioning

“Timing is essential to pretty much every sport that takes place at the Games, in one way or another. But there are real nuances to how things are timed from event to event. (HODINKEE)

Scoring, Capturing, Broadcasting

  • The Man Responsible for Timing the Olympics Tells Us How It's Done | HODINKEE
  • 3,600+ Microphones: How the Sound of the Olympics Is Created | The Conversation
  • How Olympic Tracking Systems Capture Athletic Performances | Scientific American
  • Unprecedented Broadcast Coverage and Digital Innovation to Connect Fans Around the World to the Magic of Tokyo 2020 | Olympics.com
  • The Many Companies Providing NBC Olympics Tech Behind-the-scenes | TV Tech
  • Sports Tech 101 - Fan and Sponsor Engagement | SportsPro
  • How Brands Are Using AI to Track Their in-game Sponsorships | Marketing Brew
  • [Video] Digital Transformation at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics | Bloomberg
  • NBC Intros ‘NBC Sports Next’ to Drive Sports Tech Innovation | Yahoo Finance


2008 Paralypic Games

“From prosthetics to carbon fibre wheelchairs and assisted devices, technology for Para sports is advancing with new materials and improved designs.” (Olympics.com)

Apparel & Equipment

  • Cutting-edge Technology Behind Para Sports | Olympics.com
  • Technological Doping: the Science of Why Nike Alphaflys Were Banned From the Tokyo Olympics | Science Focus
  • The Tech in Speedo’s Swimsuits That Challenged the Olympics | Engineering.com
  • Ban on ‘Soul Cap’ Spotlights Lack of Diversity in Swimming | AP
  • The Incredible Engineering Inside an Olympic Archer’s Bow | Digital Trends
  • How Materials Science and Engineering Enhances the Performance of Olympic Cyclists | Johns Hopkins HUB
  • The Best, Weirdest & Most Memorable Olympics Style Moments Ever | Highsnobiety
  • Evolution of Women's Sportswear in the Olympic Games | CR Fashion Book


sand at the olympics

“The grains must be rounded or “sub-angular,” naturally weathered and should NOT be acquired from a crushed rock source. (AP)

Inside the Sports

  • Explainer: How Does a Grain of Sand Make It to the Olympics? | AP
  • Heat, track, super spikes: what is causing fast times at the Olympics? | The Guardian
  • Thailand's Paralympic Soccer Team | Bloomberg
  • The Physics of Skateboarding: How Olympians Master Science to Win | Inverse
  • Olympics-archery-soaring Heart Rates Laid Bare on TV with New Tech | Reuters
  • How to Become an Olympic Sport | Vox
  • The Not-so-hidden Physics of Your Favorite Olympic Event | PBS
  • Engineering a Fast Olympic Pool | Georgia Tech


Chinese Olympian Training in Missile Testing Facility

“Missile technology has helped power a golden run for China's Olympic athletes.” (The ABC)

Training & Performance

  • China's Olympians Trained in Missile Testing Facilities to Bring Home Gold | The ABC
  • [Photos] Olympians Go from Pandemic Training at Home to the Tokyo Stage | Reuters
  • How Abebe Bikila Won the Olympic Marathon Without Shoes | Popular Science
  • What's Behind the Spate of Super-fast Sprints at the Tokyo Olympics? Technology Plays a Role, but the Real Answer Is Training | The Conversation
  • On, the Sports Brand, Tells the Story of 'the World's Fastest Blind Sprinter' | Muse
  • Study Provides Insights Into the Peak Performance Age in Sport | Ausleisure
  • How a 117-year old technology gives Olympic throwers an edge | Digital Trends
  • How Emerging Technologies Could Shape the 2032 Olympics | TNW



Leahanna Savain is Marketing Executive at Essential Design, part of PA Consulting.

Essential Design, a Part of PA Consulting, creates innovation strategies that inspire change. We bring strategy to life by designing products and services that empower people and businesses.


Interested in more innovation content like this? Sign up for our newsletter.