We often talk about the importance of written language. Words are powerful, but so is design. As digital platforms have become increasing visual, design has become increasingly important. It’s another form of language to communicate your brand; an extension of it, really.
Consumption today happens in a split second. Consumers scroll, tap and move through their social feeds without giving things a second glance. As they scroll, content needs to stand out. It should be clear which team, brand or league the content is from with or without a logo.
Visual identity matters because social is the front door to your brand. If you want to put your best foot, you must create a look and feel that is ownable and stands out. Below are a few examples of NFL teams this season:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Creating a visual identity like the ones above takes a team effort and a commitment to the cause. Below, Tyler Trout from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Sr. Designer, Graphic Design) and Kenton Olsen (Director, Digital) from the Seahawks give some insight into how they’ve invested in a visual identity and made it happen.
Why a visual identity matters.
Tyler: It is important to have a visual identity because your brand is the first thing viewers see before making a decision to buy in or not. If your message or look is all over the place and not consistent with what they saw the first time then there is a sense of disorganization and separation. Almost like a dividing line between when the company had a vision and lost its vision. Starbucks, Target, Apple, Nike all give you overwhelming visuals of different branding, but their looks looks are distinct and undeniably memorable.You can picture each brand without even seeing them. If they did not focus on their visual identity, then their brands would not be as recognizable or as memorable.
Kenton: From a digital and social perspective having a consistent visual identity is important for us because it differentiates our content from others in the digital space. It also allows our online content to mirror creative in the physical world.
Tyler:The key to keeping things consistent is to focus on your brand first and then push the fundamentals. Once we establish the identity, then we can push ourselves to be as creative as possible within the parameters we’ve set. By pushing fundamentals like typography, composition, hierarchy, imagery, color, etc. we can expand and reinforce our brand with new ideas that all look and feel like the brand but are noticeably different from the last time you presented it.
Kenton: Great photography. We have some of the best photographers in the NFL. They make all of our content feel fresh, while keeping visual style the same.
Tyler: I am lucky enough to work with 4 graphic designers (3 fulltime and 1 intern) and each are a necessity to our brand. Some of us have specific responsibilities like designing for events around the region or designing for a corporate partnership. When it comes to social, we all help to create content that get used throughout our platforms. We understand our brand and all try to develop new ways to push it.
Kenton: We work very closely with our Marketing & Brand team. They are tremendous in involving us with developing the creative direction for each season. Having a creative team that involves us in the process is helpful because we can ensure all of our digital designs compliment those our fans may come across in the physical world. It also allows us to provide input on what creative wells will work well on digital versus elements that may be tough to work with.
Tyler: We have two designers working every game. One designer will focus on scoring drives and quarter graphics and the other will focus on content/photos for IG and IG story. Our contracted photographers give their cards to a runner on field who then loads and sends to us to use throughout social. As far as tools that make it easier…We use Photoshop, Dropbox, Topaz, and sometimes AP Images. We’ve looked into getting wireless for our photographers so we can instantly get the photos but we’ve heard through other NFL teams that the connection becomes an issue and they have to revert back to card running.
Kenton: We are fortunate to have an extremely talented social media producer and amazing designer that is dedicated to our digital content. They collaborate together to ensure we have consistency across our content. On game days specifically we have a system in place where our photographer(s) will add photos to a central repository. With technology in modern cameras (and improved connectivity) we can often see a photo from the field within a minute of it happening. Once that photo hits our repository our team collaborates over Slack where that photo will be used. Our digital designer will handle more intense graphics, while other staff members will take on less intensive tasks. These treated images are then sent to our social producer who will distribute as he sees fit. The current process is very focused on photos, but we are in the process of integrating more video into this same workflow thanks to an amazing new control room at CenturyLink Field. Another key to our consistency on game days, and throughout the week, is our designer has put together templates that are easy enough for anyone in our department to use. Pretty much anyone can take a photo and turn it into a graphic that is consistent with our visual identity.
Tips for making it happen.
Tyler: My tip to any team trying to find a visual identity is to create a style guide to your brand and push yourself within it. Reach out to different departments and help them understand why this is important and how they can help to maintain this identity and vision. Focus on the QUALITY of your brand instead of quantity. And always challenge a traditional project and ask why it is done that way and can it be done more effectively. So many designers just do what is asked instead of thinking if this is actually effective.
As far as any other tips, it would be to hire a project manager. That position is so crucial in the creative world because it allows us to do what we were hired to do.
Kenton: I have two pieces of advice for others looking to improve consistency. First make sure you work with your organization’s overall brand team. While it is nice to be consistent on digital, being across all channels should be a focus. Invest in resources. This can be anywhere from having a dedicated designer, to building templates anyone can use, to equipment to allow you to get content faster.
As Kenton and Tyler’s answers show, creating a visual identity and seeing it through to execution takes teamwork and dedication. But, it’s work that’s worth it. After all, you want to put your best foot forward.