Capturing the drama of polar expeditions with live data tracking

We helped record-breaking polar explorer, Ben Saunders, share the drama of his awe-inspiring expeditions: a speed record attempt on the North Pole and a 1,795 mile trek to complete Captain Scott’s ill-fated route to the South Pole.

A polar identity

In 2004, Ben Saunders became the youngest person ever to ski solo to the North Pole (a full and engaging account of which can be seen by watching Ben’s TED talk). Six years on, Ben had two new expeditions in the planning stage, and needed a visual identity that could be used as an umbrella for various activities – from exhibitions and digital media to Ben’s roles as public speaker and Land Rover brand ambassador.

Bandwidth limitations at the Poles restrict the amount of imagery that can be sent back, so we used a simple typographical identity and a strong polar colour palette to frame dynamic visualisations based on just a few kilobytes of data. A bespoke typeface played on the North/South arrows of a compass point, also present in the N and S of the Ben Saunders logotype. A supporting set of patterns were used to create maps.

North 3

In spring of 2011, North 3 was Ben’s third attempt at breaking the North Pole speed record of 36 days 22 hours, set in 2005 by a team guided by Canadian Matty McNair. Unlike the McNair expedition, Ben’s attempt would be solo and unsupported. Ben’s previous attempts had both been thwarted by equipment failures; a broken ski-binding in 2008 and a fuel leak in 2010.

To track the expedition’s progress, we developed a live tracker for the expedition, that broadcast hourly GPS co-ordinates, with blog posts and additional data updated daily. A countdown clock displayed time remaining to break the record. With bandwidth so low, just 4 data points were used to track progress – latitude, distance travelled, sled weight and temperature – each one crucial to telling the story.

Sadly, the worst weather in 30 years meant that Ben was unable to fly out from Resolute Bay to start his North 3 campaign. During his wait for the weather window that never came, Ben was able to retain huge audience interest through a series of fascinating blog posts and beautiful videos shot by Temujin Doran, who had travelled with Ben to the Canadian staging post — every one worth a watch.

Scott 2012 and The Scott Expedition

Undeterred by this setback, Ben proceeded with plans for Scott 2012 – aiming to complete Captain Scott’s iconic Terra Nova route from the coast of Antarctica to the South Pole and back on the centenary of his death in 1912. Logistical issues pushed the expedition back twelve months, but in 2013 the renamed Scott Expedition saw Ben and Tarka L’Herpiniere become the first to complete Scott’s journey – at 105 days and 1,795 miles, the longest polar man-haul in history.

Watch Ben’s TED Talk: The Hardest 105 Days of My Life

Our work on North 3 and Scott 2012 provided a springboard for The Scott Expedition, helping to attract additional sponsors and creating a blueprint for live reporting on one of the greatest stories of polar exploration ever told.

Scott 2012 & The Scott Expedition route map