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Friday, January 29, 2010

A River Runs Through It

An effective brand identity accurately reflects the nature of the product it represents, so it is appropriate for many minor league baseball teams to have logos featuring characters that visually embody those clubs’ family-friendly ballpark experiences. But that’s not the only way to go.

In anticipation of their move to the new ballpark that they will be sharing with the University of Oregon, the Eugene Emeralds, the Northwest League affiliate of the San Diego Padres, were looking for a brand update, with traditional baseball sensibilities, that would capture the natural beauty of their home in the Emerald Valley.

The Ems knew one thing for certain: they wanted their lettering to be a script. Discussions with the team regarding other possible elements for the primary logo kept returning to the Willamette River that winds through town and the city’s most prominent, fir-covered, geographical landmark, Spencer Butte.

After developing a custom cursive that would be unique to, and own-able by, the club, the challenge was to take all of the other ingredients, simplify them down, and consolidate everything into a clean, cohesive logo where it looks like they were meant to be together all along.

No angry acorns. No whimsical wascals. Nevertheless, a professional set of marks and a brand system with a local connection, deeply rooted in community identity.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

It’s alive! It’s alive!

an·thro·po·mor·phize verb. To ascribe human form or attributes to an animal, plant, material object, etc.

I first learned this word back in high school, when we were reading Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” in which the main character turns into a cockroach. I have since had numerous occasions to not only use, but actually employ, that term, as Studio Simon has been called upon to develop sports identities featuring bat-toting and stick-wielding canines, felines, pachyderms, crustaceans, fish, fowl and insects, not to mention storm clouds, lightning bolts, hammers, nuts, socks and even fish hooks.

So when we were recently asked to design an identity celebrating the Walla Walla Sweet, considered by master chefs and produce consumers alike to be the finest sweet onion in the land, I summoned Igor and together we descended the steps leading down to our creative laboratory, eager to give life—sweet life—to this deliciously edible orb.

The Sweets will begin their inaugural season this summer in the wood-bat West Coast League, whose teams’ rosters are comprised of top Division I college baseball players. Though these particular Boys of Summer may be amateur, the operation of this new franchise is anything but. The ownership group includes Seattle Mariners’ minority partner John Stanton and former Major League all-star Jeff Cirillo, and the front office is headed by Zachary Fraser, the former general manager of the Orem Owlz, one of the Minor League Baseball affiliates of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Recognizing the benefits any organization derives from a professional brand identity, Fraser said he made it his first priority to contact Studio Simon once he was brought on board. Less than two months after the new identity was unveiled, the team had already sold out its premium Diamond Seat and Field Box season tickets—2-1/2 weeks before the team even launched its ticketing campaign.

“I receive 3-4 compliments about our brand identity every day,” Fraser said in a recent e-mail. “People here have a renewed sense of pride in ‘being from Walla Walla’ and feel like this brand is a positive representation of that.”

We certainly prefer that kind of response, as opposed to the possible alternative of torch-bearing townspeople storming our castle!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Marauders Set Sail

When the Pittsburgh Pirates recently purchased the Class-A Sarasota Reds, they brought Studio Simon on board to help them navigate the brand identity development waters in their quest for a unique identity that would thematically tie their new Florida State League affiliate to the parent club.

We worked together with the Pirates’ front office on every leg of the creative journey, starting with name exploration for the new club, which would be relocating to the Pirates’ long-time Spring Training home in Bradenton, FL. Due to the timing of the sale of the team, the project was done on a more condensed schedule than usual, but aside from a brief delay when we had to drop anchor while the trademark attorneys were doing their thing, it was smooth sailing all the way, and the new Bradenton Marauders primary logo was unveiled by Pittsburgh Pirates president Frank Coonelly and other team officials on December 15.

It has always been my goal to have the work Studio Simon does stand apart from—and above—the competition. For any of the identities we develop, whether or not this goal was achieved will be determined by how that identity resonates with the fans. The poll shown below, which ran on Minor League Baseball.com the day the new Marauders identity was unveiled, has me feeling pretty good about the job we did on this one!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

In the Beginning

When it comes to Frequently Asked Questions about Studio Simon, perhaps the most frequent of the queries is “How did you get started in sports design?” So for the inaugural GAME FACES post, I figured there was no better place to start than, well... the start.

Today, there are multiple firms and individuals who have chosen to specialize in the craft of branding the sporting world’s professional, collegiate and amateur teams, leagues and businesses. But earlier in my career, the sports branding landscape was not nearly as populated as it is today, and that is when my good friend, Peter Thornburgh, and I made it our goal to focus our creative energies on this segment of the industry that was screaming for award-winning creativity.

Although I had been working as a graphic designer for about ten years and had a relatively-sizable portfolio of work by that time, we realized that potential sports clients would likely need to see a sports branding portfolio before giving us work. But since our work up to that point had been for entertainment industry clients, we didn't have anything along those lines already under our belt. As avid fantasy sports participants, however, we had already spent copious amounts of time dreaming up potential team names, and we used those as fodder for the very first sports identities we would develop. Keep in mind that this was the veritable Stone Age that was the Early-’90s, so creating a digital portfolio like one might do today was not yet a possibility. Instead, we set out to create our own “Field of Seams.”

This was also in the day before the Internet made even the most hard-to-find items merely a mouse-click away, so we had to scour Los Angeles-area sports team apparel suppliers and flea markets for blank jerseys, caps and helmets on which to apply our designs. We also haunted the local fabric stores, where we searched for just the right color materials and threads to match our visions. We would hand-embroider our logos onto the caps and, when Peter’s wife, Ginger, tired of sewing our hand-cut lettering onto our jerseys, we had to learn how to use the old Singer ourselves (how many guys do you know who would admit they can spin their own bobbin?).

Once we had enough faux sports team uniforms put together, we had the lot of them professionally photographed by another good friend, Paul Conrath, so when the first potential sports design opportunity presented itself, and the client asked to see our work, we were ready—and we got the project!

That was all many moons ago, but while searching through some old files a few months back, I happened upon the Polaroids (remember those?) from the photo shoot, and put them aside for eventual use in this post. The very first team identity I developed was for the Akron Barnstormers (shown above); the orange number on the front of the jersey was a nod to the red contrasting “TV numbers” on the Los Angeles Dodgers unis, one of my favorite sports uniform details of all-time.

Other teams that Peter and I did included the St. Louis Archers, Yakima Yaks, Bayonne Bombardiers and La Mirada Marauders. It’s interesting how things come full-circle—Studio Simon recently had the opportunity to develop a new identity system for a club named the Marauders (the new Florida State League affiliate of the Pittsburgh Pirates that will be playing in Bradenton, FL in 2010).