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.”