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Todd Radom is an independent graphic designer specializing in branding for professional sports franchises and events. His work includes official logos for Super Bowl XXXVIII and the 2009 NBA All Star Game, as well as graphic identities for multiple Major League Baseball franchises. His two decades of work with the NFL, NBA and MLB have resulted in some of the most familiar icons of our popular culture. Radom earned a BFA in graphic design from the School of Visual Arts in 1986. He works on a range of projects, from poster and book jacket design to apparel design and corporate identity. Radom is regarded as an expert on graphic design for professional sports and has appeared in media outlets such as ESPN College Gameday, NPR, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Fast Company, ESPN The Magazine, HOW and Print. He writes about sports branding and uniform design on Radom Thoughts.

05.06.14

Athletic Aesthetics

How did you begin to specialize in design and branding for sports teams and events? I’ve been fascinated by the visual culture of sports since I was really young. I was one of those kids who was always doodling sports team logos and uniform lettering. I’m also a lover of history of all kinds, so the aesthetic history of sports has always appealed to me. I explored these themes in different ways during my college years—I once illustrated a triptych of the visual history of baseball that contained all kinds of logos and uniforms and ephemera. I worked in book publishing when I graduated from SVA and wound up creating lots of sports-themed book jackets during the first few years of my career. I eventually accrued a pretty sizable portfolio of baseball book covers, sports-inspired lettering jobs and general identity design, which enabled me to seek out work with MLB and the NBA.

Would you recommend specializing in a niche area of design to a designer who is just getting started? Absolutely—a wise person once told me that “in niches there are riches.” In all seriousness, I always advise younger designers to be influenced by everything and to soak it all in, then follow whatever their passion is and hammer away at it. Become an expert. Your chances of being in demand as a designer will eclipse pure talent and work ethic—there’s always someone out there who’s better than you or is willing to work harder. I can only speak for myself, but I followed a very defined path many years ago and still feel as excited about doing what I do as I have ever felt.

What is unique about sports branding? I have often said that sports fans are the most ardent, passionate brand loyalists on earth. Design for sports is different from design for any other consumer brand. Sports logos and uniform designs connect generations of fans who follow their favorite teams daily, sometimes obsessively. The opportunity to tap into something that people are so positive about and invested in is a great, great challenge. And our work is utilized across a staggering variety of visual platforms—sports brands are embroidered, sculpted, stamped into plastic, screened, diecast, painted on grass, ice and wood, and are reproduced in sizes ranging from one eighth of an inch high to hundreds of feet tall. There are structural challenges involved that most other forms of branding work don’t have to answer to.

Which sports team logo or uniform is most desperately in need of a redesign, and why? The dawn of the digital age in the early to mid-1990s brought forth a logo movement that embraced lots and lots of outlines, too many colors, and a series of toothy, aggressive animal logos. While most of these have been retired, a handful survive—these would include the NHL’s Florida Panthers and the NBA’s Toronto Raptors.

What are the different considerations of designing logos for different sports and events? The aesthetic sensibilities and traditions for individual sports are all different. Baseball has a visual culture that is rooted somewhere in the nineteenth century, whereas the look of the NFL is always evolving and looking forward. Permanent franchise identities, single-year anniversary logos, and event logos such as Super Bowls, World Series and All Star Games are also all different. The look of big events generally spin off of a single primary logo into a complete suite of visuals which often include things like wordmarks, custom typography, secondary marks and the like.

What excites you about design right now? I love the fact that there is a movement toward good old hand-lettering going on. I meet 22-year-old designers who are totally into creating their own letterforms from scratch and I’m taken back to being that age, doing it all with radiograph pens and French curves. The fact that there is an emphasis on craftsmanship and seeing typography as something that doesn’t just emerge from digital fonts—this is exciting.