Bad News Bears

So this will probably be the first negative post yet. I’m sure in due time, many a more will fill the stocking. But nevertheless, here goes. This too, will probably be the beginning of a series as well that I will continue as the weeks go on.

Over the summer, my favorite basketball team in the world was stolen from the city I call my birthplace, Seattle, WA. Anyways, this probably means very little to a great many. But I was heartbroken. And to this day, it still brings more frowns. More and more. Tonight, I had an exchange with a friend of mine and we were hypothesizing as to the creator of this beast. Yes folks. It is okay to cringe. I can officially not even dub this graphics designs. I know not who did this. But I know I wish, not to know who did this. There is a write up on this at UnderConsideration if you are curious. The comments? Let’s just say, I hope the original designer is not reading this because it will take elephant dermis to shield them from the decimation. But back to the point. I believe what is at issue here, or the larger issue here, is what happened to sports and graphic design? Since when has poor design become standard issue in sports? I can remember many a classic logo from as early back as the 80s that were fitting, decent, and wholly acceptable. I was watching the olympics earlier this summer and I wonder, who’s intelligent idea it was to put flames on the uniforms of the Chinese baseball team? Anyways, the point is, I wonder when the great divide took place? It seems it is common standing in our profession to disassociate with athletics. I’ve seen it once. I’ve seen it time and time again. This is not a bad thing. This is natural. We, as designers, are the more arts inclined. The slightly more sensitive. The slightly more refined(atleast in our minds). And to stem further away from our “meathead” counterparts, seems like the logical step. Or progression? I understand the logic. I understand the sentiment. But I wonder, could this be cause for the chasm? Have we let the divide truly separate in entirety? I’m wondering if it is a firm yes here. And I can probably receive affirmation from that from the amount of folks who have absolutely no interest in this post. But I will continue, and only for a bit longer. It seems that graphic design is missing out. Or shall I say, probably more correctly, athletics are missing out on graphic design. And I do apologize to the hundreds of folks, who are happily employed in the arena of design for athletics. But I cannot remember the last identity I saw for a professional team that drew even a slight nod of approval. Sad. And it was ever present today as well, as I look sadly upon what was formerly my beloved SuperSonics. I will continue on this another day. But in the meantime, RIP Sonics. RIP.


  1. LA Hall says:

    Chris, I think you’re totally right. And it’s something that I’ve strangely been latently paying attention to over the years. It’s such a bizarre phenomenon how progressively worse American professional sports teams graphics designs have become. But I think it’s a different question to be asking – rather than if the issue of if it’s *our* refined art and design sensibilities that separate us from a more athletically inclined majority of the population.

    Just like the state of the majority of television programming and how the kinds of shows developed for them oftentimes reflect the (poor) tastes of the viewers, it’s the same with the showbiz of athletics and their marketing accoutrements in the US. Now I may be blowing this all out of proportion, but I believe it certainly speaks to a much broader general cultural deflation of the American society, and in turn, creates a capricious practice of disposable entertainment and consumption commodities. Now hear me out:

    Growing up in the Houston ‘burbs I was a rabid Houston Rockets fan back when they still looked like this. Pretty sweet right? Of course, in the late 90’s they eventually changed to this logo, which eventually deteriorated to this failure-to-launch R-turned gothic Bram Stoker’s ‘Racula monstrosity. Now being Western Conference rivals, I noticed the Seattle Supersonics had a similar, yet milder transformation. From the Detlef Schrempf era, to the Kemp+Payton era, to the whoever they have now era – which, comparatively speaking, is a pretty mild and decent transformation. A recovery even. Most professional team identities across all sports have not been so lucky.

    But let’s take a look at how some legendary football (soccer) clubs over in Europe have transformed over the years. We should note that a lot of these clubs are almost institutions of their own, some over 100 years old with their respectively distinct cultures. Arsenal FC in North London was founded in 1886 and sported a crest something like this from about 1950 to 2000. Now they look like this. Indeed it is quite a jump, but to be fair, they did keep the general idea of a crest. If we take a look at their south-west London rivals Chelsea, who are 20 years younger (which makes them only 103 years old compared to Arsenal’s 122), they started with a logo like this. Simply a blue lion with letters on a blue circle. Chelsea now look like this, still primarily the same format, but harkening back to a quality similar to Arsenal’s crest and heraldry vernacular. These are just examples, but if you look at the crests of a lot of big clubs with rich histories, you will see that they change little over time and embody the kind of stability and loyalty that they inspire to their local fans. I say local because the geography of these teams are an integral part of their identity, unlike professional sports teams in America. Back before multimillion dollar/euro/pound trade deals, team relocations, giant stadiums and rich corporate owners, the squads consisted of the good ole boys in your home town.

    I remember when the Grizzlies moved from Vancouver to Memphis. The Memphis Grizzlies? What the fuck?? I remember when the San Jose Earthquake (Major League Soccer) moved to Houston, where their San Andreas-related moniker made no sense, so they became the Dynamo. Someone is still yet to tell me what in the fuck a Dynamo is. I know that the Dynamo mascot is some kind of fox named Diesel. “Let’s just make shit up, as long as it sells, right?” Remember when the Raiders moved from Oakland to Los Angeles – and then back? Yeah, I didn’t really notice either.

    The closest we as American professional sports come to any kind of true unwavering sporting character, identity and rivalries may be in “America’s favorite past time” – baseball. The looks of the Yankees, Red Sox, and even the Dodgers (despite moving from Brooklyn to Los Angeles) are all pretty loyal.

    Apologies for the rambling. But thanks, Chris, for putting a finger on a micro of a macro point.

  2. Chris Ro says:

    LA, this is a fantastic reply. Seriously. I believe this belongs in the posts and not the comments section. You may want to consider moving this there, as time permits. But yes, thank goodness for GraphicHug™. Lo and behold, I have found another sports inclined graphic designer. You know you are mythical at this point in my experience with other graphic designers. And that was one of the main points I was trying to make above. It seems, there has become, or perhaps there has always been this backlash against athletics from graphic designers that I have in high dosage experienced throughout the years. The mere mention of baseball in the design workplace has drawn looks of scorn and detest. It’s a phenomenon I’ve become quite used to. So as stated above, a rare breed indeed. But back to your point, I do believe you are hitting upon what probably is the larger and more truthful issue in this matter. And that is in the realm of cultural positioning and taste. Thank you for the information about the football clubs. I was not aware of much of that information. And yes, you are correct. When I was living in Europe, I did notice a considerable amount of aesthetic appreciation from many of the sporting/athletic related communications devices there. Seriously. All the football clubs in Germany, well, almost all of them, have pretty immaculately crafted branding. Really, it is a cohesive package. And I was shocked to see at times, how well done it was. This too, lead to some of my earlier theorizing about the poor state of athletics and design in America.

    But I wonder, and this may shift the issue in a larger area one more time, is this not just an acceptance of design in general and a matter of taste and awareness? For yes, in athletics, there is a huge difference, but I too have become quite privy to the existence of very well done communications work in general in Europe that could never exist here. From basic advertising, to automobile design, to mobile phone design. And yes, I will get potentially in huge trouble here as this may be a gross generalization, but I’ve seen just a difference in aesthetic appreciation there, even from the everyday consumer. They seem to know more and demand more. Yes, gross generalization. But I think some simple observations may prove my point. I can’t help but also point to the larger acceptance in Europe of lingering elements of the International Style, minimalism, or constructivism. There seems to be an appreciation just as much for what not is said, as to what is said. And here, I find the approach different. It is very much hit you over the head with messaging as if you couldn’t figure it out on your own. Yes, gross generalization again. BUT, I will stick to my guns here. So I wonder, is it not something that perhaps, we, as designers, and we as designers who appreciate athletics, are far less in control of?

    But, I will digress to the original issue at hand. I do agree with you in all capacity to your observations. Yes, you are correct, baseball does seem to hold its own. And yes, to your point, perhaps it is the history. The longer it has been around, the harder it is to change. And I think this rule of thumb, seems to often apply to many aspects in our wonderful lives. The longer you are employed at one place, the harder it is to mold you. The longer you have been buying milk, the harder it is to change that milk. The longer you have been thinking this way, the harder it is to alter that. Freshman, are only fresh for so long. Then they develop habits. Anyways, so yes, there is something to this. But I also see signs of trouble. Have you seen any baseball identity created in the last fifteen years that has not been troublesome? They are too getting worse I feel. The Seattle Mariners seem to have come up with something with a bit more longevity. But why all that shit around the S? Why not keep it simple? The Washington Nationals are in okay territory. But that is because they basically took the old identity occupied by the former Nationals. An identity of some history. But other teams? Tell me why did the Brewers do that sparkle shit? Where is the old MB mitt?

    But yes, you are correct. The Sox, Yanks, Dodgers and I’ll add SF Giants to this mix, are in good standing. And this exists because somewhere, some creative person in those organizations, knew that it was unnecessary to change a good thing. And to your point, the fan bases of these teams, instinctively knew the same. Could voice the same. Could feel the same. There is something to that.

    But, to bring up my last question, I wonder if it is also a matter of simplicity. The reason those teams, have held up so long, can I believe, be attributed to the fact that they are relatively simply branded. Very iconic, simple gestures, no fussing around, nothing unnecessary. And it works. Nothing is wrong. And perhaps this leads to the longer growth and lifetime of these systems. Yes, I’m opening up another can of worms here. But, I believe it is stuff worth pondering.

    Thanks LA.

  3. […] sorry, yet another sports related post. But hey, it is that time of the year again and perhaps for some, maybe I’ll really emphasize […]

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