Responses by Alain Sylvain, chief executive officer, Katie Sadow, lead designer and Cole Nielsen, creative director, Sylvain Labs
Background: We partnered with the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) to reinvent the business and brand, and help assert the league’s relevance in today’s culture. We wanted to create an identity bringing that ethos to life while embodying and representing the ambition and optimism of women everywhere, in and beyond basketball.
Reasoning: We started with a commitment to create a brand that, first and foremost, was representative of the league’s players. We wanted them to see themselves in the work and to feel proud to rep the brand. Next, we wanted to speak to an audience who think about sports and culture differently. To do that, we needed to completely reimagine what a sports brand could be. We wanted the WNBA brand to manifest the game of basketball as played by the women in the league today: energetic, passionate, and full of love and unapologetic celebration.
Challenges: This project required the awareness of a nuanced, niche basketball culture, and a sensitive yet powerful approach to race and gender. If not done thoughtfully, this can read as inauthentic and exploitative. We also believed that the WNBA should represent its truest self: a bold, independent league that stands for the power of women. We wanted to ensure that the truth of the league resonated with those with similar values.
Favorite details: A foundational principle from the onset of the brand design process was to center women creators at every point. We collaborated with Hélène Marian and Production Type studio in Paris to design a bold and expressive type family inspired by the dynamism of the game, the strength of its players and the optimistic ethos of the brand. The system she developed brings a unique perspective to sports typography—one that is ownable to the league and honestly, really fun to design with.
Visual influences: While the game of basketball was influential in our final solution, we intentionally sought inspiration outside of the sport. We looked to brands, spaces and artists that are radically inclusive and celebratory of a diverse intersection of identities—like House of Yes, Mardi Gras, Janelle Monáe, the Afropunk Festival, Sad Girls Club, Them and Moonlight. These perspectives helped showcase sports in a way that felt fresh and unexpected.
Time constraints: The timeline for this project was tight and immovable. It was also multi-faceted, including elements of positioning, experience design and the brand identity. These work streams are typically done sequentially, but with the WNBA’s 2019 season imminent, a linear process wasn’t an option. So, we embraced a spirit of parallel collaboration across disciplines and with those in and beyond our core team.