Graphic Language: What is Design?

“Good design is invisible”

Well, that’s a boring ass way of looking at a visual art. . . I’ve heard that quote many times but don’t know what dork said it. Probably a web developer or industrial designer :) Definitely not someone who makes logos, posters, product packaging, book covers, or street art.

Design is many things and to try to make it one thing is silly. That quote dosen’t touch all the things that design is, but I get it. It touches things like street signage. Usually in every town and city in America you go to the street signs are green with white Helvetica type. They serve an information purpose and are designed to communicate that info quickly and efficiently. That kind of design is invisible to the extent you don’t think much about it and it is accepted as a natural part of the environment. It causes no harm and does nothing to make you take notice of the things it’s doing wrong, or ruining your experience of driving. That kind of design does not have the same principles as a movie poster or sports car.

Design is graphic art, information, language, communication, technology, a chair, an engine, a plan, an idea, a dream. It’s emotional, or it’s not. It takes a long time to do, or it’s done in a minute. Design is so much more than a single quote. It’s a creation with a purpose, if only the purpose it to create something. I can’t explain it any better than that.

Graphic Language: Application & Environment

As graphic designers, we design things for other things.  Logos for websites, graphics for packaging, type for posters. What we do goes on something else and whatever that something is has to be considered in the design process. It’s not enough to design something that communicates the right messages and looks good on paper or in Illustrator, it needs to do all that on whatever it’s going on to. This is the importance of graphic application.

Think of a football helmet. It’s contours, ridges, and obstacles (ear holes, vents and bumpers) have to be considered when designing something to go on it. A good example is the Sand Diego Charger’s logo. The lightning bolt was designed specifically for its shape and lines to form perfectly to the helmet.

The next step is to consider the environment in which your design will live. That thing you designed for that other thing is going to be viewed on or in another thing or place. Think of a billboard, and is it surrounded by trees or buildings? Is it in a climate that experiences all seasons or just the good one (summer)? Is the label on that bottle going to be seen along with 100 others on a shelf or just 10? How’s the lighting? All things to be considered when choosing type, color, material, etc.

Also, show your design in its proper application when presenting to a client. A special ability of designers and artist is to look at something and see something else. Especially with our own designs, we see them as they will be. But, a lot of clients still have to be sold on the idea. Don’t be like Pentagram and show your BIG TEN logo on a USB drive, that’s fucking stupid! That’s not where the logo is intended to live. Show it where it lives.

The Destruction of Banksy's Work Is A Good Thing

If you haven't heard, the Bristol street artist Banksy is in New York City this month putting on an outdoor art show of sorts titled "Better Out Than In". Local taggers and graffiti artist seeking attention and the need to protect their own "turf" have been going over Banksy's work about as soon as it's put up.

It's frustrating to know that Banksy's work will not last long enough for me to ever travel to NYC and see it in person. If it's not the attention whore taggers writing over it, it's the city itself washing it away. But, that's the understanding that every street artist has. They have a detachment from their own work because they know it will not last forever. It's not meant to. Even if it survives the defacers and pressure washers, it will fade away due the rain, sun, and wind. What makes so many pieces special, is that it is there for only a brief moment in time.

Still, there is a bigger enemy to Banksy's art. It's those who take the pieces from the streets to sell and profit for themselves. Some people label him a "sell-out" because of his commercial success, but if he's getting paid for work he's done and someone wants to give him $1 million for it, then good for him. If someone who had nothing to do with the work gets paid even $1 for it, well, I don't think theres even an argument to be made why that's not completely stupid. (On a related note, some douches were guarding the beaver on Bradford St and charging people to see it.)

All the people who feel the need to paint their name over his work to in some way teach him a lesson or for their own recognition, are doing Banksy a favor. If it's defaced then there is no value. The piece actually is protected in that way. For that reason I'll probably never see a NYC Banksy in person, but I would rather look at photos of them than know some jackass lifted it from the streets and sold it to some other jackass art collector.

Graphic Language: The Trenches of Creation

Most of us don’t have a lot of spare time during a work day. That’s why we say our time is valuable. That’s why the work we devote time to comes at a cost to our clients. The final products we create for most projects are only one thing. In the end, there’s only going to be one logo, one site, one poster. But it takes a lot of work to get to that one thing. Dozens or hundreds of ideas are sketched out or written down. Then maybe a dozen different versions of a single idea worked out.

And why? How many times do we have to twist and turn an idea into something slightly different before we’re satisfied with a version of it and see it as a final option, or so dissatisfied with all versions that we throw them away?  How many times is that process repeated on a different idea during a single project? I think it’s because that’s just what it takes to do good work, and good work that’s unique and special, and lives up to our own full potential lives deep in our sketchbooks (or computers).  

You don’t just get to unique and special right off the bat. Your first idea is probably a cliché’ or something you’ve seen done before, so we push beyond that. It might actually take a couple of pages of sketching to get to those good ideas, and we should dump as many ideas into our sketchbook as possible. Then we might do multiple versions of the same idea. That’s all for the creator, that’s why your time is valuable, because you’re fighting in the trenches of creation, thinking and critiquing and researching and redrawing and second guessing why you ever chose this career. . . all for one good logo (or whatever).

A lot of times, we’re trying to meet a number set by the client. Even if you’re presenting 10 options to someone (I don’t suggest you ever do that many) in the end, there will only be one, and fuck, it’s hard to get just one good one! Why go through the pain of 10? Sometimes we can get 2 or 3 but any more than that and I bet most of us start running into the mediocrity wall. And I would much rather present 2 or 3 well executed, interesting ideas than 10 just to meet a number so a client can feel like they’re getting their money’s worth. They’ll get their moneys worth with one good idea, not with a bunch of average ones, or a bunch of average versions of an idea. That’s why I don’t let the clients set a number anymore. It’s not to anyone’s benefit.

And inevitably, if you allow someone to choose from a large stack of concepts, where there is one you really dislike and know is not as good (but it’s there because you’re trying to meet a quota) the client will choose that one. I promise you, it will happen most of the time.  Because that’s probably the one that’s safe and familiar, and that’s what most clients want to feel, but is the feeling artist hate most. Not everyone has the balls to do something unique and special.

Paul Rand presented clients one logo. He felt they hired him to solve a problem, and the thing he presented them with was his best solution to it. They needed one thing, so he created one thing. I would love to see his sketchbooks though. I’m sure he drew a lot. But I’d like to be more like Rand. “here’s the solution to your problem. Thank you”.

How Do I Logo?

There's no solid definition for what a logo is or should be. You won't find too many designers that agree 100% on what makes a good one or a bad one. Taste is subjective too, even really terrible logos have their fans. But, I can tell you what I think a good logo is.

I'm not going to tell you any magical secrets to logo design or that every logo should follow the same set of rules. Some logos need to do different things than others and they follow their own rules. Some make use of a clever idea and pull something personal from the thing it represents. Others are just for "performance" and need to do their duty, like sit in the corner of a webpage and identify what that page is. Some represent a culture with a specific concept, pattern or color (sports fans think of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seattle Mariners), while others express a single idea well and are built to be absorbed by it's audience and become a permanent mark of the culture later (think Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Cubs).

Either way is fine, but understand that no logo is born with emotional value. That is earned over time, which we call equity. Most people don't like change and would rather their favorite brand hang on to the shitty logo they've always known than replace it. If it's a new logo/brand there will be many haters of it once it's debuted. It gets understood and accepted and loved over time.

What I will tell you about logo design is only what I can tell you. My views on logos are defined by learning from other designers, my own education, and my own experience. . . and a lot of time being a dork and thinking about logos. If I could sum up what a logo is, it is a thumbprint. To sum up what it does, it identifies something, then communicates a message about it.

Logos, like all design, send a message; and whether you're doing something personal and clever or just something to perform well, there is always a conversation with it's audience. Design is not all about aesthetics. Aesthetics are the least important thing about design. Your ideas and connotations and emotional responses to design are what makes it valuable and good. Form follows emotion. And study your history too. Colors and symbols can easily pull mental images of the wrong thing if you're too focused on aesthetics and visual performance. I like to use the example of the worst idea in Pro sports branding history: Putting a team named the New England Patriots in a red jersey and white pants.

That football uniform looks great, doesn't it? . . . But the concept fails.

What I use to define a good logo is a set of measures that I believe in fully, but I don't think all of them need to apply to every logo. Again, some logos just need to do different things.  I start with the idea and emotional expressions. You don't need all 3 every time, but if you can capture the 1.) Personality 2.) Culture 3.) History, of something in a single logo, you've got a great concept. And those are listed in order of importanceDesign always has a personality though, so make sure you're expressing the right one.

The next set of measures is about the performance of the logo and the more tangible aspects of it. These are the duties that need to be carried out by the design. If a logo "works" well, then it does these things well. Sometimes, a few of these are all you need. There's some overlap too, for instance simplicity helps visibility and memorability, good color choices help with distinctiveness, etc.

Visibility – Readability and clear form, even at small sizes.

Application – How and where it's used. If it's going to live primarily on a football helmet, then that's the main thing you have to focus on. Design for that thing first. Also think of environment. If everything that surrounds it is green, then green probably isn't the best color to go with. 

Distinctiveness – Different from brand's competitors. It has to be able to be different enough to be easily noticed. 

Color – The color has to be pleasing as well as having qualities on this list of it's own like visibility and distinctiveness. A great logo can be ruined by a bad palette. A single color can express the brand's full personality. I believe color is one of the most important elements of design and you can never know too much about color theory and meaning. BE GOOD AT CHOOSING COLOR!

Simplicity – Helps memorability, timelessness, and reproduction across multiple mediums and sizes. A logo dosn't have to work in black and white anymore, that's dated thinking. But it is still good practice for seeing simplicity in form.  

Memorability You want people to be able to recall your logo without being reminded of it. They should be able to clearly describe the idea. "The football team with the G on the helmet" is better than "The football team with the circle and weird brown thing in the middle" 

Timelessness – Dosen't use design trends or rely on new technology. Sometimes It's okay to follow those trends. Sometimes It's okay to build a logo with a short shelf life. But not if you're going for timelessness. It should never show it's age. 

Equity - The longer a logo is around, the more it soaks up the brand of a company and becomes a symbol of what the audience thinks of the product. Coca-Cola's logo isn't great typography, but the sight of the logo usually brings thoughts of happiness and togetherness, because thats what the brand is, and that's the emotional value. If a logo has good equity, don't change it. 

Modularity – Versatility. Can it be a mascot? Some logos have to be. 

Appropriateness - It should fit the brand goals of the company, and the culture of it's audience. I've always felt the Buffalo Sabers "Buffaslug" was a great logo, just for a football team instead of a hockey team. Still, I'm one to push the appropriateness level to the very edge, doing what's right for the brand and letting the logo find it's audience. That's kind of the Apple way of doing things.   

Descriptiveness -  It needs to communicate what you do. This is more for lesser known brands. You probably don't want to use a snare drum in the logo for a plumber. 

Craftsmanship – Dont ignore technical skills. Milton Glasier said "To design is to communicate clearly by whatever means you can control or master". Don't worry if you can't draw like Leonardo da Vinci, most can't. Just know the design principles, theory, and do good work. Don't be afraid to break some rules too; don't lose your own design personality or confuse craftsmanship with perfection. 

The end result of a good logo should be something people are proud of. Something that you wouldn't mind wearing on a t-shirt. And, if it's a sports team especially, try not to design something that it's rivals can easily make fun of. My personal redesign of the Indianapolis Colt's horseshoe was said multiple times to look like a toilet seat. . . well, fuck!

Check out some of my favorite logo designers:

Fraser Davidson - Marc Verlander - Kris Bazen - David Airey - Tin Bacic - Jan Zabransky - Gert Van Duinen - 

Something Bold; Something New

When I was a teenager learning to play guitar, one of the ways I kept myself interested was by constantly incorporating something new to learn. There was always a balance of mastering my strengths (growing vertically) and adding challenges (growing horizontally). There was something about the guitar that always felt comfortable to me. I was never intimidated by things I couldn't play, because I knew I was working my towards them, and one day I would eventually arrive there.

I have tried the same approach with drawing, but gave up on new things if I didn't grasp it quickly. My problem has been one that many other artist struggle with. The road to mastery is never short or easy, but in our minds we imagine it to be so. Probably because our heroes make it look so easy.

I think I know why I've had more patience with music than pencil and paper. I'm better at music and the learning curve for me there is shorter, and there is always another challenge waiting to be met. But I can't seem to draw a good human figure for shit. There has been improvement over the last 23 years, but sometimes It's like not being able to get over a barrier no matter how hard you try. There's no moving forward, and I lose interest in trying.

Instead of looking at that barrier, becoming frustrated and giving up because I am unsatisfied with my work, I have recently embraced my mediocre-at-best drawing skills, and challenged myself to get over that wall. The way I'm doing this is by doing a lot of drawing and not worrying about how bad it is. I'm doing the best I can, learning from each one, but if it turns out worse than I expected, I don't worry about it. I just move onto the next one. I'm drawing on paper and with a Wacom tablet too. There's not much difference between the two, but I've always enjoyed the feel of pencil and paper. To actually touch what you're working with feels more rewarding, but stylistically, I love the digital look.

The fuel for this fire has been the most exciting thing. I'm doing posters. Posters based on global issues, world events, and politics. Generally, just things that are more important than corporate logos and sports team uniforms. I guess I'm following the footsteps of some of my favorite street artists in that way like Banksy and Sheppard Fairey. I also have a list of my favorite movies and songs that I want to do a poster design for. All the song posters are going to be done on paper and colored with soft pastels.

Even if I don't get any better at drawing after all this, at least I will have created something. Which is always better than creating nothing.

The Long And Short Of It: Colts' Truncated Stripes

In the world of Pro pigskin aesthetics, one of the topics that always creates a debate is the modern application of the Colts’ (and LSU, Iowa State, NY Jets, etc) jersey stripes. The controversy is how they should look on modern football jerseys, with one side claiming they are too short and should extend down to the armpit, the other side saying the current solution is the best. The claim that they “should wrap all the way around the arm like they were designed to do” is a non-starter because they didn’t even do that.

The issue is this is a design solution from the 1950s intended for a completely different problem. It’s an example of how form should follow function, and how good graphic design enhances the product. Jersey design has progressed over time, and they’ve gotten smaller, with shorter sleeves. This graphic has tried to come along with it, but at this point is just a shoe-horned element that dosent truly fit on a modern jersey template the way it was meant to do.

What jersey manufacturers have done is truncated the stripe at about the point of the collar on the front and the bottom of the nameplate on back. This solution has created a passable design using good judgment of alignment and space. That is until Nike really fucked it up in 2012, making the total width of the stripes much narrower than before, and pushing the stripes to the sleeve seam, where the smaller sleeves put the stripes on an angle, as much as 45 degrees on some players with no shoulder/sleeve tailoring to correct it.

Nike has taken a shot at lengthening the stripe design with LSU and trying to return it to it’s original integrity. They had to use a narrower number font when doing this, which in the end is fine, I think the number font is quite good. But because the jerseys are so small/tight now, it really starts to crowd the other elements. It’s a push for me from the previous solutions because it’s still a shoe-horned design that never had these modern uniforms in mind. Between the Reebok Colt’s solution and the Nike LSU one, it’s hard to pick a favorite, but I would go with Reebok’s as I feel it’s a better use of space.

Another issue is if you’re going to maintain your 50 year old design, you need this stripe. It’s always going to be botched, but a botched stripe is better than no stripe. It’s a huge part of the Colts identity. Those suggesting the uniforms be compromised to suit the jersey decoration have it completely backwards. Again, form follow function, you design graphics for the product, not the other way around. But, form also follows emotion, and there is so much recognition with the stripe for the Colts, they just wouldn’t be the Colts without it.  The other option is to blow it all up and start over with something completely different, something that actually works well with current uniforms, like Oklahoma State’s design. But blowing up a 50 year old identity that comes with multiple championships and lots of success for a current brand doing extremely well, isn’t a move that is necessary.

If it were up to me to design the perfect Colts uniform, it would be this. see the whole thing here: Colts Brand Adjustment


The Possible Future of Sports Uniforms

I’ve paid very close attention to sports uniform design for the last 5 years. Specifically, college and pro football. This year has been one of the most disappointing seasons for football uniform and logo design (actually, just the NFL in the logo department). It seems it’s been mostly about recycling ideas and copying what others have done before rather than creating something new. Although there are one or two new things for 2013, It largely seems like schools and designers are running out of ideas. But I think what lies ahead can be very promising, if someone takes advantage of it.

Socks – Socks are a growing niche for apparel manufactures as some are reporting a 35% increase in sock sales within the last year. This growing trend with the often overlooked and unexplored area of sock design in sports uniforms makes for a great opportunity for a school and designer to take advantage of. Especially for UnderArmor, Nike, and adidas, where everything they do is to direct you back to shoes. Because the sock/shoe combo is such a great hook in stores now, they do offer socks that will combo with your new pair of kicks. But the attention could be driven more towards that if they took advantage of a sock design for one of their major college clients.

Everyone is racing for the helmet now, and sublimated patterns and unique designs within numbers and jersey sleeves have been around for a few years. The unexplored ankle area could be one that these companies will compete for soon. Under Armor is experimenting with sublimated sock designs now for purchase in stores. Don’t be surprised if Maryland football rolls out with a school specific pattern on their socks ala’ the popular pattern-within-numbers trend. Oh, but let it be known I though of it first 3 years ago :)

Cooling Technology – I’m not sure if this will make it’s way into the jersey and pants fabric for football because it’s a cold weather sport. Baseball and basketball could be different stories though. But what I envision for under shirts, sweatbands, arm sleeves, skull caps, helmet liners, and headbands is being made from self cooling fabrics.

Conventional wisdom says that to cool the body, you need to move air and have ventilation; something modern jerseys and helmets are designed to do. But with these new materials, companies are saying cooling comes from conduction, where the material cools the skin. Basically, when the fabric gets wet, it gets cold.

Adidas is already in the game with Climachill, which will hit the marketplace in spring 2014. It acts like a mesh, using titanium cooling fibers and aluminum silver dots that cool the body. A company I’m more interested in is Dr Cools ( who also has material hitting the marketplace in spring 2014. Their biggest piece right now is a hoodie which is endorsed by Reggie Bush, using EnduraCool technology. It does the same thing as adidas’ version in principle; when the material gets wet from sweat, it gets cold. Another company doing the same but I know very little about is NEXAR.

Helmet Design -  We have seen matte helmet finishes and matte vinyl graphics before. I have yet to see matte properly combined with a gloss finish. I have to believe though, that it’s only a matter of time before the muscle car influence hits college football where a matte decal is set on a gloss finish (it’s always the other way around). I think it would be an excellent combo for the ever popular black-on-black look, as seen below.

There’s also a whole world of vinyl graphics that the football game hasn’t seen yet. Oregon has used fluorescents on their helmets, and a few others have used chrome-color on theirs. But we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg. There’s so many other fluorescent, pearlescent, reflective, metal flake, chrome-color, engine turn, gloss, matte, satin, and translucent options available that I’m not even sure if Nike, UA, and adidas even know about. It dosent have to be a gaudy, in-your-face application, just imagine a helmet with a matte-chrome (kind of like brushed aluminum) finish with a 1 color logo in any of the previously mentioned materials. There is plenty of original ideas waiting to be discovered.

It would be great to see any of these ideas actually used in uniform design, but like all the other trends and advances, it has potential to be abused. There's nothing wrong with gradients and matte finishes and such, but the way they are used most of the time is horrible. Most critics and sideline designers want to put all the blame on the designers, Nike, adidas, etc. But the clients are the ones getting what they want in the end. They're the ones making the final calls, and if they're already doing a shit job of handling what's available to them now, then they'll probably do a shit job of handling everything else to come after it. I like to stay positive though. Can someone just please do a matte black decal on gloss black helmet for me!?!?

The Stars at Night, Are Beveled and Bright: Dallas Stars 2013 Identity

It’s not often I find a hockey identity I really like. Not because the NHL has more bad designs than any other league, I’m just not that big of a fan of the sport (Or any other sport outside of football, really). But, instead of that being a weakness for me when critiquing a hockey identity design, I think it’s an advantage because I’m not jaded by the “rules” and cliché’s of the sport’s own aesthetic. It allows me to see the design purely without any emotional attachment or idea for what hockey design “should be”.   The Dallas Stars’ new identity makes me care about hockey. This identity I notice and am excited about.


From what I know of the Stars, they’ve always included green, gold, and black in the identity. Replacing gold with silver definitely will be a bit of a shock to Stars fans, and will make the design at first seem unfamiliar. The fresh Victory Green and Silver palette instantly signals a new era in the franchise. It’s very bold and energetic and the team should really feel big and fast when seen on the ice. There were about 5 different color palettes being considered for this, with blue and silver (an impending disaster) being highly favored by the team. 


from, Andrew Sterlachini: LINK

After looking through so many terrible number fonts and type systems from Nike in college football and the NFL this year, it’s refreshing to see a font system done so beautifully. The numbers are a slight variation on a standard block, but it’s the best typography I’ve seen in sports this year. It’s consistent from one character to the next, yet the variation makes each one unique enough. Notice the 6 and 9; they’re not mirrored, but individually designed to be it’s own digit. I fucking LOVE these numbers!

The word mark isn’t as good. It feels skewed too much and the heavily beveled “STARS” feels disconnected from the city name, which was left untouched. With no containing shape or element to otherwise bring the two together it’s left looking a bit weak. It’s also the only logo that dosent include black.


Overall the new primary logo is a seriously cool and well executed design. I wish there was more of an emphasis on green with maybe a silver key stroke, but it’s a logo that looks great on the front of a jersey or a hat, or t-shirt, or whatever you put it on. It has sort of an old sheriff’s badge look to it too, weather that’s intentional or not I don’t know, but it definitely says “Texas sports team”.

I love roundels and the secondary is a solid effort. I’m not sure about the primary being included inside the center though. I think that’s maybe a missed opportunity to do something different there. The primary D-Star as it is dosen’t really have a strong presence inside the circle, it has to be small to fit inside and the lack of it’s strokes makes it seem odd when paired next to the true primary logo. I really prefer the “Dallas Stars” type like this, un-skewed and un-beveled, but again it lacks some consistency when you match it to the true word mark. Overall though, it does look good on the shoulders of the jersey.

Counting the word mark, the tertiary is actually the 4thlogo in the family and weather it’s needed, I’m not sure. It’s a cheesy, cliché concept (state shape) that really gets played out in Texas themed logos. Again we see the primary used here in an awkward space making the logo heavy on the bottom and the tangent on the top point of the star touching the top of the state’s outline makes me cringe. Instead of forcing the primary into the space it wedges in best, I’d rather see it centered within the state shape, or even another idea here. A monogram, or single star, or put the roundel around it. Despite it’s flaws and terribly cliché concept, it’s still a likeable logo and I think Stars fans will really dig it.


The uniform is unique in color and type, but features traditional hockey striping. It works really well though, because as detailed as the logos are I think it was a good idea for the uniforms to be very simple and let that great green color and new logos be the hero of the design.

I know it’s a fairly common style, but I don’t like the green shoulders on the white jersey. It looks like the pointless color blocking you see a lot in college football uniforms. Personally, I’d rather see the jersey be all white (outside of the stripes). The striping on the white jersey and socks is really great. I love the alternating color and wish the same would have been done on the green. What confuses me most is the shorts are the same for both sets. They match the green jersey but looks too different with the white. It’s not a big deal but I’m not sure why they designed a jersey and socks stripes to be different on each set but wouldn’t do the same with the shorts.

One slight complaint is the total lack of detail outside of the logos. All of the uniforms elements are solid, flat color blocks, but each logo is so intricate there is some disconnect there. Like I said before, they didn’t need to do a lot with the uniforms, but I’d like to see a bit more cohesiveness between logos and uniform elements. Maybe some silver lining on the stripes or the numbers? It just lacks some detail that would visually tie everything together.

It’s not a perfect identity, but there is so much here to love. The color is my favorite part. The package as a whole is so good, I almost want to be a Stars fan. I probably won’t watch many games, but I might have to buy a t-shirt or two.

Norsemen In Purple Satin: 2013 Minnesota Vikings

When the Vikings released their slightly updated Norseman logo, it was a clear sign of the direction they were going to go with the new uniforms. A modern-retro design ala' Buffalo Bills. Where the Bills went more traditional, the Vikings went more for the future. Of the 3 new NFL uniforms this year, this is the one with the strongest execution.

The helmet has a satin finish which makes them the 2nd NFL team (Seattle the 1st) to feature a satin primary shell. I really like it with modern uniforms especially, where the new materials being used for jerseys and pants have a satin or matte finish. (I hope the shiny uniform materials stay away in the future, that silliness should have died with disco.) It definitely has a rugged feel to it,  or as Jared Allen put it "Looks like we're playin' a man's game".

The horns got a bit of an adjustment and the best I can tell, they're just larger. Usually, a good thing but what we're seeing on the initial pieces is a tangent purposefully created where the horn tips touch in the back. Major points taken away for such an obvious visual tension, but hopefully they wont be that way once the season starts. It's strange to see the Vikings use a Revo Speed for showing off the new design. I don't think they should have adjusted the horn design just for this shell, it's just one option in a vast sea of helmets, but it's the one where they have to cut the decal to go over the vent.

People have flipped out over the use of a black face mask, but I think it's the perfect choice. Remember, this team is more forward thinking than the Bills, and black works very well as a modern neutral color. If it were grey, it would have a vintage connotation, and with the contrast would be a distraction, where the black is very subtle. There's also black in the horn and the base color for their cleats is black. So why not purple? If it were, then it would be a gloss finish and if there's a quick way to make a helmet look cheap and tacky it's mixing 2 finishes of the same color. So why not a satin mask finish? well that could be possible, I don't know what that process is like, but it hasnt been done before, so asking for that right now is a stretch. Why not white? Again, contrast. I dont like the mask to attract your eye and be the focus of the design. White also makes the bars appear larger, which makes it worse. Black was the way to go.

I think they started with the old Northwestern stripe design and used that to carve something new. Blending that with the sail of a ship idea turns out to be a really nice stripe. If there's one complaint i have there it's that there's not enough space between the 2 colors in the stripe. It's even worse on the white jersey where yellow and white meet each other. The stripes are sewn onto the jersey too, which the Bill's should take note of.

Per usual, Nike fails on the number font development. They are consistant though; consistently bad. I don't think a single number (either single or double digit) looks attractive at all. It's so odd to see one digit with the spurs and another next to it with none. If they left those spurs off, the whole uniform would benefit from it. It becomes a focal point of the uniform for it's oddness.

The pants stripe is one of my favorite details of the uniform, where you can see how they might have started with a Northwestern stripe. At the very least it looks like a nice evolution from that traditional design and give a sense of forward motion. I don't think anyone is aware that socks can have stripes on them. I would love to see the pants stripe carried over into the socks here.

The uniform is so close to being so excellent, but the number font keeps it from being so. It's definitely better than the Seahawks' and Dolphins' but it's not much consolation being the 3rd worse in the league.  The helmet, if they fix the application of the horns, will be one of my favorites. Satin purple just looks so sweet and tough. I doubt they keep the finish forever, but damn, it's going to be nice having it around while it's here. Grade: B

Laces Out, Dan!: 2013 Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins' logo updates scream "cruise line" and not surprisingly, the new uniforms complete that look. This is sort of another modern-retro direction where they pulled an orange and aqua that are very similar to the ones they wore in the 60s and 70s, but all the other elements are completely new for Miami. Those new (old?) colors are all absolutely gorgeous! Whether isolated or used together, the orange, aqua, navy, and white make for one of my favorite color palettes in sports. My one concern though, is that it might be a bit feminine. Florida natives will probably have no fears about sporting those colors, but fans from the rest of the country might find them too "soft".

A trend in the 1980s, that has come back strong in the last 2 years, is white face mask on white helmets. The Dolphins are the first NFL team to jump on it and I actually really like this look. It dosen't date the helmet to the 80s in my mind, it looks really fresh and clean. The most identifiable element of their identity has always been the color palette, and the 2nd was the helmet stripe.  This helmet, and whole uniform, just dosen't look like the Dolphins without it. It's going to be a hard adjustment to make. The helmet stripe's colors are fine, but the width of those lines are too small. The orange disappears and because the navy and orange are so small, it just looks like there is one too many strokes. It feels clunky and heavy without any white space between the colors.  It's not a visual vibration, but you can see there's something odd about it.

At first glance, the jersey is really nice. I don't mind the emphasis of aqua and white, but some of the orange will be missed. Digging into the details, I am quickly disappointed. I never like a helmet logo being repeated on the sleeves, it's a redundant element when viewing the players from the side. The numbers might get points for matching the helmet stripe for color, but the lack of definition with the 2 outer colors being so thin makes the stripe and numbers look a bit of a mess from a distance. 

What completely ruins this uniform for me is the number font. Nike's biggest problem for 2 years, even in the CFB level, has been type design, especially number design. With the Dolphins, they are just trying way too hard to have an original modern-meets-vintage font that is neither consistant or attractive. I believe the serif of the "1" is thicker than the stem, I mean, WTF?! If there was a focus on a single idea, either classic block or rounded corners, then either idea would fit in very well with the rest of the uniform. Instead, they give us an amateurish bastardization.   

Consistency from piece to piece (helmet, jersey, pants, socks) is often something Nike struggles with, but even as bad of a stripe as they came up with, at least the pants have a perfect union with the helmet (and jersey numbers). And of course, it has the same problems as the other applications. They just cram all this color into a tiny area with so much negative/white space around it, the focus of the uniform becomes the ugly stripe and numbers. I usually love socks with stripes, but in this case it's probably best to go with solid tops and avoid any more exposure to the new stripe design. 

This was a design where the more that was changed, the worse it got. They went back in time to pull those amazing colors, but all the original designs from the logos, to the font, to the stripe makes the uniform a mess, and not very Dolphin like at all.  At this point, I wonder why they even bothered with the new-old colors. Maybe they should have pushed forward with everything and gone with a silver helmet and orange jersey? It's a real departure from so many things that have made up this identity since day one, the end result to me looks like a team stuck between the past and future with no clear idea of who they are or want to be. When you hear "this is about tradition" from Nike they're just bullshitting us, and from Dan Marino he just has no clue. It was about doing something new enough for people to be excited about, and try to hold on to some equity so older fans wouldn't be upset. You can never have both. Grade: D 

Fade to Black: 2013 Jacksonville Jaguars

“It’s better to fail doing something different, than to successfully follow in someone else’s footsteps.”

That’s a quote from a past article I wrote titled “Getting Better and Moving Forward”. That’s a hard “truth” to accept when put in context with the new Jacksonville Jaguars uniforms. Today, I feel what my twitter friend and fellow graphic designer Cliff Dixon said about the Jags’ desgin is more true: “It's a shift in aesthetic power. The ‘radical’ portion of design is running out of ideas. Envelope has been pushed too far”.

Its seems to me this whole re-brand is not just about becoming a modern, forward thinking franchise. It’s about having something no one else has. Doing something that has never been done before, which I love. We need more new ideas and to be different is exactly why we have/design identities. But, to execute these ideas with a total disregard to what is valuable, interesting, and well crafted design (or just a complete lack of good taste) does not validate the new ideas.

The helmet is the biggest change. The metallic gold to matte black gradient, which splits half of the helmet couldn’t be more of an eyesore. One of the first rules you learn about gradients is “no harsh gradients”. But so what? I love a “fuck the rules!” mentality as much as anyone. . . but not when the end result is completely jank. I actually hate every single decision made about this helmet. 1.) The combination of colors. 2.) The combination of finishes. 3.) The tight transition from one color to the next 4.) the location of the transition on the helmet 5.) The use of a gloss black decal on a half matte black fnish. 6.) The use of a gloss black mask against a matte black part of the helmet.

Most importantly I hate the concept Nike tries to sell us on as to why the gradient was used. Mostly, because it’s the exact opposite execution of their idea.

“the jaguar comes out from  the shadows and attacks” – Todd Van Horne, Nike

The jaguar on the helmet is actually running into the darkness on the helmet, so congratulations on that epic failure, Nike. But let me help you out and spin it this way: Think of the player as the animal and when you look at him straight on, he is shrouded in darkness with the light at his back. Does that help? No, because it’s still a shitty looking helmet.

The jersey is tolerable. I do like the collar element as it’s a new design that dosent get chopped off on the end to highlight Nike’s flywire (see the Saints, Bills, Chargers). I love when sleeves/shoulders are different colors too, but there has to be some designed element there, like it’s done with some purpose, not a fill-in-the-box treatment that’s used here. Nike seems to love that though. I even like the number font and the double outlines. The black and white jersey numbers look great. The teal one is a let down with the black numbers. I don’t think that’s a nice contrast and it’s the one jersey that’s dominated by 2 colors instead of nicely balanced by 3 (the sleeve fills and number are the same color here). It looks visually “heavy”.

What’s going on with the shoulders, I have no idea. It’s a different piece of material, something shiny. I haven’t been able to find anything about it. So now we have matte and gloss pieces on the jersey, but they’re the same color instead of oddly contrasting which is just as bad.

The only thing that looks military influenced to me is the patch on the chest, which I think is a tacky detail. I’m not a fan of sports teams going military. It’s a game, not war. I don’t think a team should be officially calling itself by it’s nickname. “Jags” is what I refer to the team when talking about them, but it dosent seem very professional when they’re promoting it themselves. Also, it would apparently be a bad idea to wear it in London because the term “jag” is slang for binge drinking or drug abuse, across the pond.

The pants’ stripe is interesting. It’s not an exact complement to anything else in the uniform, but it dosent feel out of place either. Maybe a little too wide, or not long enough, but I don’t think anyone will be too upset about the pants. I appreciate the effort to get all 3 colors into the design as well. How mad can you be at the socks? It’s the standard NFL color fills, but a single stripe would be an improvement to at least break up the large amount of black when the black socks and pants are paired together. Well, with so much already going on from the knee up, maybe it’s best to have some negative space in the uniform?

Overall, I don’t think this is the worst design in the NFL, but that’s just because the Seahawks are so much worse. I do think this is easily the worst helmet in the league though. If they had not focused so much on the “hunting from the shadows” bullshit and trying so hard to be different, and just gone with 1 color either gold or black, It would be a design that I would be able to watch on TV, but the helmet is so bad I don’t think I can stand to do so. So, instead of saying “good for you Jaguars for being bold and creating an identity that is somewhat respectable” I can only say that I can’t wait for them to change it again, and as soon as possible.

Using my CFB uniform grading system on this, I would give the Jaguars a D+

Bird Gumbo: 2013 New Orleans Pelicans Identity

The team formally named the Hornets now, the New Orleans Pelicans, officially released their new logos yesterday, designed by RARE Design and Ben Barnes. The reactions by fans to the name change and logos have been mostly negative, but I'm going to be on the defense here . . . sort of.

I don't think anything the team has done here is wrong. Actually, what surprises me most about all the negative reaction to it is the fact that the whole logo package here is perfectly average. The color palette and logo styling places them well amongst the other NBA teams. The primary logo may be one of the more detailed ones out there, but overall I think we're looking at a completely normal and acceptable pro sports team identity. The thing that does excite me about the negative reaction to this is that maybe people are finally tired of highly illustrated, aggressive animal logos? It would be good if we could see less of that from now on.

The name "Pelicans" is the biggest issue I have and is where I have to side with the majority. It's a damn silly name referencing a damn goofy bird. The point made by those who like it is "Not every name has to be fierce and intimidating. Look at the Magic, Lakers, Celtics, Nets, Knicks, Suns, Clippers, Mavericks, Nuggets, Thunder, Jazz, etc". Well, exactly! I don't think all of those are great names either but I do like the Magic, Suns, and Thunder, and don't think the Pelicans fit in with those other names. Reason why is because they're abstract enough that you can come up with your own connotations and visuals. We dont have a universal icon that represents "thunder", the name brings to mind things like: thunderstorms, stampeding cattle, applause from an audience.  It also ties into the local area. All good things that spark the imagination, but "Pelicans" is very directly a stupid looking bird with no attributes of a team of NBA athletes. (Well, I guess the fact they can actually fly might be something.)

But good products can be successful even with a terrible name or a terrible logo. The Lakers is a perfect example. LA isn't exactly the land of 10,000 lakes, and their logo is, at best, good clip art. That brand is strong because they've always been a great product and there would be a lot of negative responses if they tried to change the name or the logo too much. If over the next 10 years New Orleans becomes the NBA's best team and pulls in a championship or two, it won't matter that they have a dumb name. It will grow on people over time. It always does, as long as the product is good.

The direction for the logo is a bit odd. The emphasis on New Orleans is over done, I think. 1.) crescent in the ball. 2.) Pelican being the state bird. 3.) Blue from the state flag. 4.) Hierarchy of New Orleans over Pelicans. 5.) fleur de lis. 6.) Iron fence design. 7.) the font. We get it! You're from New Orleans! Stop shouting! I imagine RARE Design taking down notes on this from the team and feeling like they were writing down their kid's christmas list. "I want this, and then I want this, and I want this, and I want this, and this, and this . . ."

The actual execution of the logo couldn't be much better, though. I thought Fraser Davidson and Tin Bacic both made better concepts, but they weren't given the brief Ben Barnes had to work with. Without knowing exactly what that brief was, I think he did a very good job with it. The logo overall (including the secondaries) feels like an NBA logo. He was able to take a goofy ass bird and a ton of New Orleans flare and bring it all together without any flaws. For that, we should applaud him. For the Pelicans and Tom Benson I say "Meh". It will all be okay if you win. (Worst part about the whole logo system is the "bird de lis" which looks like a big headed bird with tiny wings. Seriously, that ones comical!)

And to think, it all may have been worse. The team also was considering Mosquitos, Swamp Dogs, Bull Sharks, and Rougaro as names.