Why Do College Sports Fans Hate the Big Ten's Smart New Logo?

Pentagram steps into a hornet's nest of criticism with a Big Ten redesign. Michael Bierut talks about the impossible choices offered up in such a high profile project.

Don't mess with college football fans: Don't mess with their teams. Don't mess with their tailgating parties. Don't mess with their booster clubs. And don't you dare mess with their graphic design.

There's been big controversy buzzing since Michael Bierut and Michael Gericke of Pentagram recently unveiled the redesign of the new Big Ten logo: "New Big Ten Logo Looks Like It Took 25 Seconds To Make? blared one website; a commenter at Time took the idea further: "...looks as if it needed an elementary-school stencil and an oven timer to complete." Armchair quarterbacks have have now become armchair designers. Some are demanding the Big Ten eliminate the logo and crowdsource the design amongst its college sports enthusiasts. Is this another Gap fiasco in the making?


Let's play defense. Part of the controversy has been that the logo includes the number "10," even though the Big Ten Conference now includes twelve teams instead of its previous eleven. But the math has never added up: The Big Ten started with nine teams. Helping fans cope with the mathematical inconsistency, the conference's previous logo cleverly incorporated the number "11" in the negative space on either side of the "T" in ten. But designing a new logo every time the number of institutions expands or contracts seems even more ridiculous than the nonsensical arithmetic. Right?



Well, the fans disagree. As it turns out, they are also big fans of hidden numerals, and they seem downright pissed that they're gone. Many seem to think that the new mark should have incorporated the number "12."

However, after Bierut and Gericke interviewed a multitude of people including athletic directors, coaches and presidents of all twelve schools, the consensus was, "don't try to include the number 12, which, again, emphasizes the inconsistency, plus builds in an expiration date if the Conference structure ever changes again." Bierut added, "So trying to be clever with the math in terms of the name and logo doesn't seem to be a game that anyone can win."


Well, why not just change the name "Big Ten" and end all this nonsensical confusion? Because to the alumni, who refer to themselves as 'Big Ten alums,' (and there are tons of them!) this would be considered nothing short of sacrilege. In fact, the Big Ten Conference has more alumni out there than any other conference. Thus, the consensus from everyone whom Bierut and Gericke spoke with was "keep the Big Ten name." Bierut adds, "The name has so much heritage that it transcends arithmetic."

Fans were also upset that the logo didn't evoke literal images of football: Some imagined Michigan and Ohio State playing football under a gray November sky. But because of the geographic distribution of the teams, finding a single literal image, like a landscape element, that could be applied equally conference-wide proved incredibly difficult. So after exploring many possibilities, Bierut and Gericke ended up focusing on typographic solutions. The logo that was ultimately selected is the word "BIG" designed in a collegiate typeface where the 'I' is a "1" and the negative space in the 'G' hints at "0." According to Bierut, "This had a kind of cleanness and simplicity that we liked, and by concealing the number, echoed the ingenuity of the Big Ten logo with the hidden eleven."

At the same time, the designers also worked out a parallel logo that spelled out the word "ten" below the 'B1G.' Although the designers preferred just the three-character version and its variations, "everyone thought that the simpler version might be too limited to launch with, so we introduced both at once. The strategy going forward is to try different versions in different applications and see which ones work best and gets the most positive fan response once they're in use."


Unfortunately, neither version has received much positive feedback so far. Critics have called the logo "too simple" and "cookie cutter." ?That's all they could come up with?? one sports writer questioned. We suppose that if your baseline reference is the eye-melting array of colors, shading, dimensionality, outlines, and highlights that mark many sports logos, you can at least see where the critics might be coming from.

But Bierut points out, "Some of the most admired logos out there are quite simple. The previous Big Ten logo, for instance, is relatively straightforward. And there's nothing simpler than the Nike symbol, which people usually name as an effective logo." In addition, since the Big Ten logo coexists with the diverse and complex logos of each of its constituent schools and their teams, and is rarely seen on its own, the designers deemed a simple approach would ultimately be best.

But what about the color? Critics have called the blue "weak," 'ugly,' and drastically lacking the power and strength for which the Big Ten is known. Beirut commented, "I have noticed that the logo has been reproduced around the web in some blues that aren't quite right. Once the official color scheme is out there, and particularly once it's out in real sport environments, people can judge for themselves."

Although blue is the traditional Big Ten color, the designers altered the shade when they created the blue and black two-color logo option. Bierut stated, "The blue we chose was meant to stand out clearly from black, plus feel brighter and more electric."

Whether or not the Big Ten will listen to its fans, scrap the logo, and start over remains to be seen. But let's remember that the previous Big Ten logo, which fans now absolutely love, also met with resistance when it was first introduced twenty years ago. Bierut adds, "Believe me, it's no fun to get emails from people telling you that they don't like your work. But it's that exact same passion that fills the seats at every game."

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  • Illinois20

    Their is a sense of tradition and family in the BIG TEN that many people don't seem to get. In name BIG TEN will always stay, it has had the same name for over 112 years. Unlike other conferences short lived conferences, we are stable. 

    On that note, we are also an equal and unified conference, by sneaking in the 12 somewhere, we also give respect to our new brothers. By just invoking the 10, you kinda just give kudos to the first members. Penn State and Nebraska are also familyand need to be represented. Its laziness and disrespectful of the graphics to forget about our new siblings. Family is forever.

  • bobby veylupek

    Without belaboring the BIG10 Logo Critique-Time well spent on incorporating the number 12 would have been REALLY NICE! just my opinion-K2L

  • Ross Connard

    Another great success for Pentagram as far as I am concerned. I like it even more after reading the article. Like it or not, Bierut is able to solidly support every decision that he made and that in itself makes it a good design.


    I think the logo is nice and Pentagram are just making PR like Wolf was doing with the London 2012.
    It's a working logo and people will get used to it :)

  • Bo Bothe

    As a designer and hard core college football junkie, I think the mark is fine. Does everyone want an icon or something that they can grab on to immediately with cool blends, shadows and other Photoshop tricks, sure. But, as the article and Mr. Bierut state, college football is in flux, putting the number 12 in the logo wouldn't have made sense (ie. the new 10 in the current Big 12) and they could go to 16 in the coming years.

    The beauty of good design is timeless. It's easy to say "I could have thought of that" but the reality is Pentagram actually did.

    Is the mark simple? Yes. Is it clean and does it communicate quickly? Yes. Does it get in the way of the 12 brands (team logos, identities and associations) it will be supporting? No.

    That's good design.

    I am a Texas Tech graduate and probably have 100 items in my closet with the Tech logo on them. Not one of those items have the Big 12 logo on them. I don't even remember what it looks like.

    The real issue here (Blain captures a bit of it in his post) is that with technology the small number of people that care or that won't like anything have a voice. Nothing wrong with that at all, it's pretty cool. The critical thing is how strong is the leadership in supporting the work they've done? Pentagram is a good firm and they obviously did their homework, interviewed the right people and had a mark approved by Big 10 leadership.

    Roll it out, give it a year and I would almost guarantee the mark will be fine. The majority of people don't like change (like changing the name) and once they live with it for a while the mark will be fine.

  • Adam Gerthel

    The new logo is magnificent. Altough I'm not a fan of the font face I think it fits the audience well. A logo should be simple and recognizable which this one is. Well done - too bad about the response from the fans but I'm sure they'll get over it.

  • Blain Rempel

    I have a belief that no matter what it is a person does in the public eye, 20% - 25% of people will love it, 20% - 25% of people will hate it, and the remainder will be ambivalent. The problem is that with the internet in particular, the 20% - 25% that hate what you're doing will react vocally and quickly, which tends to cause an over-reaction to the negative.

    So... if you believe in that, you have to expect that no matter what you do a quarter of the people will hate it or disagree with it and be vocal about it; knowing that, you just have to ignore them.

    The only secret is to be paying enough attention that the 20% - 25% of detracters isn't higher - if it is then you've probably done something wrong.

    So I guess with the Big 10 logo or the recent Gap logo I'm solidly in the ambivalent camp - a yawning "whatever". And frankly, unless you're part of the Big 10, or a Big 10 follower, or a Gap employee or consumer, who really cares what you think about the logo. Draw it in crayon in Comic Sans for all I care (and watch the design purists heads explode!).


  • Arnaldo Jimenez

    This idea of pleasing everyone is ridiculous! As a designer your 1 of your million responsibilities is to design a solution that addresses all the concerns of the of that specific problem/project/client at hand. In the case of the Big 10 logo, Pentagram has done exactly that. They did their research, analyzed it and moved forward with a simple concept that achieves all of the goals they set to achieve. It's just unfortunate majority of the people criticizing this mark are impressed by "fluff design" . Meaning who cares what it stands for or if its right just make sure the number of teams are in the logo and there are tons of photoshop drop shadows and gradients on it to make it look cool, hip and modern (the new Gap logo). I know that things need to be aesthetically pleasing and well thought out and alot of times people seem to confuse simple design as lazy design and thats not the case here in my opinon. I fee this is a well thought out and aesthetically pleasing mark that is appropriate for college sports and the Big 10 conference. Yes its different than what everyone is thinking it should be, but that is why you hire a designer... so they can "think outside the box". Unfortunately in this case whoever ended up designing the BigTen logo would catch heat because nobody likes change. Everyone calls for change but when it happens now a days the internet critic bring out their pitch forks and throw stones at anything that breaks the mold of "traditional" or "normal". Nobody likes innovation when it comes to simple things like logos.

    Thanks for reading my Rant! Sorry for the spelling errors and run-on sentences, im at work on lunch!


  • jmartins

    Fans are definitely not the best source for logo design criticism unless they also happen to be accomplished designers and marketers.

    The reality is they simply do not understand that it takes far more time, effort and creativity to come up with a clean, simple design than it does to come up with some nightmare hodge podge illustration that attempts to say too much.

    I happen to love the simplicity of the new design. It's not original but it is clean, simple and says college sports.

    There's a reason the fans don't make the rules of the games they watch...they'd screw that up too.

  • Chris Coughlin

    The bottom line is here is where the designers are disconnected: I don't see the "0" inside the "G" and it does look like it took 25 seconds to do. Maybe the fans are a little more sophisticated then the designers think. Evidence of the lack of respect for the fans is when the Big Ten announced, at the same time, their new divisions. Legends and Leaders...come on!

    It's something fans may know but you'll never refer to them that way. Sometimes art gets in the way of good old fashioned common sense.