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More than a month into the baseball season, all eyes turn to the
longstanding rivalries between great, once-great, and
wish-they-were-great teams. As fans wear their badges of loyalty in
the form of caps and jerseys, one wonders about the designers
behind all those sports logos and symbols that define this national
pastime and more. There are a few designers who specialize in
sports iconography, and one of the most prolific is Todd Radom, who
has designed some of its most visible identities ranging from the
Washington Nationals to Super Bowl XXXVIII. Here, the Katonah, New
York-based logo slugger discusses what it takes to hit a mark out
of the park, as well as the traditions and taboos that are endemic
to sports graphics.
Heller: How did you become a specialist in sports
Book cover by Todd Radom.
Radom: I've been a sports fan, specifically a big
baseball fan, since I was a kid. I was always intrigued by uniform
designs and logos, and explored these themes as a design student at
SVA. My first jobs out of college were in the book publishing
industry, designing trade jackets and covers. I probably designed
more covers for baseball titles than just about anyone in the late
'80s and early '90s. At this time I was branching off into
advertising and corporate work, lots of logos. It seemed like a
logical move for me to aggressively pitch my talent, knowledge and
passion as a sports fan and consumer to the professional sports
I got my first freelance commission from Major League Baseball
in 1992. These days I have sort of a niche within the field of
sports design as a historian. I am both a designer who can execute,
and a guy who knows the history of sports, as well as the history
of sports design. I have compiled a very deep library of uniform
and logo designs and histories over the years.
Heller: There's definitely a convention in terms of the
design of team brands. How do you balance your design with those
Super Bowl XXXVIII logo.
Radom: There is definitely a visual culture for
professional sports in our country, and I think that the need to
speak the consumer's language means that we have to live
comfortably within those conventions. I personally try very hard to
stay away from anything that smacks of trendiness. I want to create
a package that will stand the test of time, whether that time frame
proves to be three years or 20 years. This is a tough concept to
articulate verbally, but I like to think that my work, for the most
part, has a carefully crafted, timeless quality.
Event logos are part of our world, too. Logos for Super Bowls,
All Star Games, significant anniversaries and the like. These are
designs with a limited shelf life and involve some dynamics that
set them apart from permanent identity projects.
Heller: Obviously, this is one branding problem that has an
immediate impact on its audience. Does the audience have any say in
Radom: Like any other prominent consumer logo, these
things go through focus groups and market testing. I have never
knowingly had a creative director lay down a mandate that revolved
around this kind of “tail wagging the dog” approach, but these
consumers certainly expect something that appropriately lives
within the visual culture of sports. Sports design relies on the
sale of licensed goods, especially apparel, to generate revenue, so
it's incumbent upon me or anyone else doing this kind of work to
consider the worlds of fashion and retail to some extent. The
peculiarities and traditions of local markets are especially
Washington Nationals logo on a baseball.
Heller: A decade ago the Washington Bullets changed their
name for “social” reasons. What are the taboos—such as racial or
ethnic issues—in creating sports identities?
Radom: Goodwill is a critical component in trying to
connect to the masses. We are trying to appeal to a broad swath
demographically, so the sensible concept of “first do no harm” is
something that should be employed. Baseball has its Cleveland
Indians, football has its Washington Redskins. The influence of
sports on our culture is undeniable, even as our tortured national
debate on race and ethnicity evolves.
2006 World Baseball Classic logo on a baseball.
Heller: What would you say is your most “experimental”
Radom: I get called on for more or less traditionally
focused identities that project well into the present; I am all
about ribbons, retro-inspired typography, and symmetry. The
identity that really evolved into something completely different
for me would have to be the logo for the World Baseball Classic, an
international event that forced me to channel my “inner Paul
Heller: There seems to be a trend in sports to return to the
past and evoke nostalgia, yet push to the future in terms of logos,
uniforms and even stadium design. Is this a valid
Radom: Absolutely valid. Sports franchises provide
comfort and continuity in a transient world. There's something very
nice about the fact that the St. Louis Cardinals have employed
two birds perched on a baseball bat as their visual identity
since 1922. The two new baseball stadiums that will open here in
New York next season are faithfully retro-based. I think it'll be
very interesting to see what the public thinks about them in 25
years or so.
There was a trend toward aggressive and complex franchise
identities in the early '90s, just as the Mac was becoming the
designer's primary tool. I think that we have “devolved” in the
years since, back to basics, back to comfort. Like so many trends
it seems that in sports the envelope is pushed far to the
perimeter, then the pendulum swings back to a sensible and
comfortable place. There are exceptions, of course—take a look at
the Arizona Cardinals' striking modern stadium out in the desert or
the Washington Nationals' new urban (and LEED green-certified
ballpark) for example.
(from left) Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame identity;
Anaheim Angels logo on a base; and Milwaukee Brewers logo,
Heller: What are the logos extant today that you'd like to
see changed and why?
Radom: I would have to start with the NFL Detroit Lions.
Most people don't realize that most current NFL logos and helmet
designs only date back to the early 1960s, when the great marriage
of pro football and television necessitated decorated helmets. The
identity, which was tweaked a few years back, isn't rooted in
grand tradition like the Packers'
simple “G.” This is a franchise that has won only one playoff
game since 1957, playing in a city that has gone through decades of
turbulence and social upheaval. It would seem to me that the timing
is perfect for a new identity.
Heller: Which logos should never change?
Brooklyn Cyclones logo.
Radom: The Montreal
Canadiens' visual identity is so integral to the distinct
culture of French-speaking Canada that I think it deserves special
status. The Yankees'
interlocking “NY” connects generations of great teams and
fans—and I'm a diehard Red Sox fan so I must appreciate what it
represents. The Yankees actually employ two distinct NY's, one on
their uniform and one on their cap. (By the way, the ligature was
designed by Louis B. Tiffany in 1877, as part of the first New York
City Police Medal of Honor. The award was presented to Patrolman
John McDowell, who was shot and wounded in the line of duty. The
ball club adopted the emblem in 1909.)
Heller: What's next for you?
Radom: This is sort of a dual-headed question. The sports
projects that I work on are subject to very restrictive
confidentiality agreements, so the most I can say here is that I
have a range of prominent projects in the works for Major League
Baseball, Minor League Baseball and for the NBA.
My sports workload obviously dominates my time, and I feel very
fortunate indeed to be able to combine my passions for sports and
design into a sort of a unique career. My goal in the coming years
is to diversify a little bit, toward more broadly focused projects.
I've worked by myself, for myself, for a long time now, so the idea
of more collaborative work is appealing to me.
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Design feedback shouldn't be a painful process. In fact, if it's a painful process, I'd say someone's not doing it right. The most successful projects are usually ones with a collaborative workflow between a well-balanced team of designers, developers, project management, and of course — clients! It's essential to have a healthy feedback process, in which the client knows exactly what feedback is most helpful for the next round of revisions, and the designers and developers know how to translate and solve those problems.
I know, I know, both web teams and people who have hired web teams are out there groaning right now (we get it, and this isn't a soapbox). Everyone has had their fair share of difficult projects and poor communication, but it doesn't have to be that way. In efforts to improve the feedback process for web clients and design teams alike, I'm writing this two-part article about How to Give Good Web Design Feedback, and Turning Client Feedback Into Your Best Work.
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