Embracing Event-Specific Type in Sports Design

Event platforms require far more than just a logo. Far more. That includes type.

“There are really a lot of moving parts,” says Bill Frederick, principal and creative director of New Jersey-based Fanbrandz. “Because of all the forms, having a custom font, a proprietary font, becomes this glue that holds everything together.”

Frederick has an impressive history of working in major sports leagues, creating custom logos, event platforms and typefaces. While the Fanbrandz team has included custom typefaces as part of what they offer for decades, the modern spin on design has that font available now as an .eps Illustrator or True Font file, giving it more versatility in uses from player names, dates and a variety of messaging.

Fanbrandz type design has really moved to the forefront in National Hockey League projects, from the evolving script of the annual Winter Classic Series to the reintroduction of the Global Series, as seen in November 2017. For a regular-season game played between the Ottawa Senators and Colorado Avalanche at the Erickson Globe in Stockholm, Sweden, the first time since 2011 the had played a regular-season game in Europe, Frederick needed to create an event program that celebrated not only the NHL’s return to Europe, but also Sweden and the fact that Ottawa captain Erik Karlsson and Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog were both from Sweden and playing in front of a home crowd.

“The creative goal was to design an identity that had the NHL pedigree, but that also felt at home in Europe,” Frederick says. Working with Paul Conway, NHL’s creative director, Fandbrandz researched European and global sports design aesthetics, such as UEFA identities, Olympic big logos and FIFA World Cup programs.

Frederick says they found “interesting design elements that included shaped icons with rich color gradients.” While not duplicating the findings, he still wanted to “infuse some hint of the aesthetics.” So, using gradients as a base, Fanbrandz settled on the concept of a Möbius strip and how that simple form could drive a thematic branding program full of dynamic shapes and movement to reference the speed of hockey—all while using colors from Sweden’s national flag—even in a new typeface.

“As we began developing the typography, we added the dimensional qualities of the Möbius strip shading into the custom letterforms,” he says. “Once we were into it, we discovered that a little of that dimensional quality went a long way and resolved that using that treatment on the ‘G,’ ‘O’ and ‘A’ and leaving alternate characters plain provided just the right amount of the effect without feeling overdone.”

When touching all the letters with the treatment it simply became too much. So, in the logo, for example, which included a shield shape based on the Swedish coat of arms and a shooting puck for a visual context, giving the treatment to just three letters allowed the rest of the custom type to fall in line with the overall aesthetic without going overboard.

For subsequent uses of the type, designers could choose between the custom type and the custom type with the extra treatment, allowing for a mix-and-match opportunity within the event.

Moving forward, if the NHL decides to return to Europe again in 2018, the league can select whether it wants to embrace the 2017 design and tweak it for a new look, as it has done with the Fanbrandz design of the Winter Classic Series script, a familiar form that continues to evolve each year, or start from scratch as a new event and a new design aesthetic altogether.

No matter the future of the custom NHL Global Series, the type created for a game in Sweden allowed Frederick to showcase custom types as a necessary glue for purposeful design.

Tim Newcomb covers sports design for HOW. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.

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