I had an opportunity to connect with Todd Radom-- a legend in sports branding. Todd is an independent graphic designer specializing in branding for professional sports franchises and events. His two decades of work with the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball have resulted in some of the most familiar icons of our popular culture.
Brandon Steiner: Coming from a family of artists, was graphic design your destiny?
Todd Radom: It was neither encouraged nor discouraged, but all signs pointed to a career in the arts. My creative influences were all around me. I really do think that people who are exposed to art and design from a very early age tend to look at things differently; that was certainly the case with me.
BS: What drew your interest specifically to sports branding? Talk about the importance of strong, well-defined branding.
TR: I’ve been interested in the the visual culture of sports since I was very young. I was always fascinated by uniforms and logos, a really obsessive doodler of logos as a kid. In those (pre-internet) days, it was not easy to find news about new looks for teams—I have distinct memories of being glued to the TV for Opening Day, looking for new uniforms and logos. Identity design became my primary professional focus when I was about 24 or 25 years old.
Having a solid visual brand is more important today than ever before. We live in a world of diminished consumer attention spans—smart branding can help communicate who you are instantly and effectively. At its core, a visual brand represents the face of a company to the larger world. It constitutes the visual embodiment of everything you are as an organization and, if done well, can convey your values, priorities, and corporate attributes. How important is that?!
BS: Obviously your services are top-of-the-line, and may not necessarily suit someone who’s starting up a company. For a start-up that’s budget-conscious, what recommendations would you give for building a strong visual brand?
TR: Focus on the totality of your public-facing identity—think about your primary logo and how it extends across various platforms. Prioritize. A brand consists of far more than just a logo, but that’s where you start. Consider the fact that a visual brand represents one of the most important investments that a company of any kind can make. If you get it right then you should be able to easily amortize your investment over time. I should also note the fact every job is different and that a good designer or design firm will price things accordingly.
BS: You have called sports fans, “the most ardent brand loyalists on earth.” Could you elaborate?
TR: Sports fans are tribal in their loyalties. I may enjoy shopping at Target or I may like Sam Adams or Starbucks, but sports fans tattoo their team’s logos on their bodies—and that transcends any conventional definition of brand loyalty. Sports fans are the ultimate brand warriors. The visual traditions of our teams are often passed from generation to generation—sports fans know and care about design. There is absolutely no other consumer product like it.
BS: How many different logos have you worked on over the years? I understand there may be limits to what you are able to speak about, but do you have a favorite?
TR: I’ve created thousands of sports logos over the last 20+ years, my work has appeared on the uniforms of every MLB team and I have been asked to create logos for just about every big event in American professional sports. Picking a favorite is like choosing your favorite child, but if I had to pick just one I would go with the logo I did for the Brooklyn Cyclones back in 2001. It’s not a major league logo and it’s not the most visible thing I have ever done, but it occupies a soft spot in my heart. I’m a native New Yorker and a lover of baseball and of history, so the return of baseball to Brooklyn was a big deal form me. The logo evokes the golden age of Coney Island and it holds up well after almost a decade and a half of usage.
BS: Take us through the creative process and the steps you take towards creating a finished product. Where do you pull your ideas from? How long does the process typically take?
TR: Every job begins with a research and discovery phase. Understanding what the mission is is critical-why is a team making a change? What are the dynamics of the event that we are celebrating? What makes up the core DNA of a particular franchise or athlete? Having a solid foundation of knowledge is like building a structure with good bones, if you will. I typically review the entire visual history of a franchise, event, or individual in order to have a defined starting point. I’ll seek out visual inspiration from all kinds of places and consider what the deployment of the brand might look like, as any long-term identity project has to be built with the future in mind. After that comes initial concepts-really tight art, a series of options that will inevitably be revised several times before arriving at a successful conclusion. The process can take anywhere from a month to six months, depending upon the complexity of the job, the number of revisions involved, and the number of partners involved.
BS: What was your greatest challenge?
TR: It was, without question, designing a Super Bowl logo. The Super Bowl is the biggest one-day sporting event on the face of the earth, and the number of visual impressions attached to the official logo are staggering. It goes without saying that the number of stakeholders involved in deciding what the final logo will be is numerous. Any identity that is subjected to so much scrutiny has to be “bulletproof”-it needs to look great on broadcast and on the web, it needs to translate well into every conceivable type of product. Having successfully navigated the design of a Super Bowl logo represents a singular career achievement.
BS: You've built up quite a reputation over the years. Has the computer age and the development of innovative software spurred more challenges with your competitors?
TR: I am lucky—I came up at a time before the digitization of art, so I am both a guy who was trained to have great traditional fundamental skills and a guy who has been digitally proficient for two decades. This is an incredibly competitive business and always has been. That said, the computerization of design has flattened things out a bit, but more than that you have big advertising, branding, and apparel firms creating identities for sports franchise and events. That’s a huge challenge for a niche designer like me.
For more information about Todd Radom Design, visit www.toddradom.com