• 01.11.11

How Nike’s Visual Tricks Made the Oregon Ducks Look Fast (Despite Defeat)

A Nike designer speaks on the visual tricks at play in the uniforms that stole the show in last night’s BCS Title Game.

How Nike’s Visual Tricks Made the Oregon Ducks Look Fast (Despite Defeat)

Oregon suffered defeat at the hands of Cam Newton and Auburn last night in the 2011 BCS championship game. But hard as it may have been to watch the gut-wrenching loss, you probably couldn’t take your eyes off the Oregon players the whole time, thanks to flashy uniforms that made Auburn look stuck in the 1950’s. How’d those Oregon guys get to looking so sharp? And why did those uniforms look the way they did?


“Oregon is one of the fastest teams in the nation, and we wanted them to look fast,” Todd Van Horn, Nike’s top football uniform designer, tells us. (Van Horn was on his way home from the game, and his voice was more than a little hoarse.) Visually, the colorway of the uniforms is meant to bring your eyes to the fastest moving parts of the player’s bodies — the hands, and in particular the shins, which move twice as fast as the thighs do while running. The bright yellow socks, which blended seamlessly into the cleats, drew attention to that fact.


Those color contrasts are functional as well. “We hear constantly from teams and quarterbacks that having a bit more visual acuity and contrast on the field makes things easier,” says Van Horn. The white jerseys and grey pants, combined with the green accents, allowed the players to stand out vividly against their Auburn opponents.

You might have also caught sight of those flashy helmets — the swirling pattern on the outside emphasizes the fact that Nike’s padding system on the thighs and shoulders contain carbon fiber plates (layered over breathable foam and a moisture wicking base). Nike worked with a company that usually applies custom graphics to cars to create the special decals applied to the helmet. Combined with the green highlights of the Oregon “O,” these created a visual vibration you could probably discern on your TV last night as an almost moire pattern effect.


The final piece of visual flare is a custom font designed to make the players look, basically, meaner and more physically imposing. The numbers, are wider at the top and narrower at the bottom, thus making the player’s shoulders look wider and the waist look narrower. “The artistry comes in in how we make the players look fast and look dynamic,” says Van Horn.

If only that one freak tackle hadn’t happened!


About the author

Cliff is director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.