Rog: What football crests of the past inspired you as a kid?
Karl: There are so many wonderful marks out there globally, but I’m going to focus on English crests. The Sheffield Wednesday Owl, so basic yet so striking. Newcastle and Leeds are somewhat nontraditional by using typography in the main crest, rather than for example, a coat of arms. Obviously I am biased, but the Nottingham Forest crest would have to be my favorite. The crest totally sums up our club - a Sherwood tree on top of some wavy lines that represent the River Trent that our ground/stadium beautifully sits alongside. The Forest crest was a competition by the local paper in 1972. It was won by a bloke called David Lewis. It remains the same crest to this day. Can’t get anymore Nottingham than that!
Rog: How did you become a Nottingham Forest Fan?
Karl: I grew up in Pinxton, Nottingham - a coal mining village within the East Midlands. For the most part, everyone was either Forest or Derby so as you can imagine, the banter was sensational.
My Dad tried to brainwash me as a Derby fan but I was having none of it. He wouldn’t take me to Forest. I remember my first game vividly - Derby against Aston Villa at the Baseball Ground. Bag o’ shite.
At that time, Forest were a great team. Pretty much every season involved a trip to Wembley. Manager, (Sir) Brian Clough held the keys to a magical squad. My favorite player was Stuart Pearce. Forest legend. England legend. He missed a penalty in the World Cup Semi Final on my 14th birthday and it was devastating for more reasons than that one. He did however make up for it in Euro 96.
Rog: How did you get into the incredible niche of sports logo designs for reals?
Karl: Growing up in the 80s and 90s - soccer and soccer culture was all that really mattered. The games, the clothes, the music, were all very inspiring to me back then and still to this very day.
I studied Graphic Design in Newcastle before moving to London in 1998 to get my first job as a designer - one of the first projects I ever worked on was a newsletter for The Football Association! Fast-forward to 2005, I took the plunge to open my own creative agency. In 2011, I was able to move to New York where I continued to grow the business and pick up more sports clients like NFL, NBA, MLS, New York Cosmos, NYCFC, Colorado Rapids, Miami Marlins, Angel City FC and the New York Islanders. Pretty much most of the projects I’ve worked on have all come from word of mouth and being a decent bloke.
Rog: What is the secret of a great sports logo design?
Karl: Sports fans are tough to please. Sometimes this can be a blessing and a curse.
The key for me is to do your research - understand the club/team, the history, the fan base and the overall community. Speak to them, listen to them and from there, the creative journey begins…Quite a few clubs have got it wrong over recent years (no names mentioned). Had they done the above, these errors could have been avoided. Although you can’t please everyone, sports fans are old romantics and their voices should be heard more often as part of the process.
Rog: When you approached the Men In Blazers design challenge, what was the briefing and how did you attack the challenge ?
Karl: Men in Blazers are memorable and this is what we wanted the mark to be. Getting a verbal brief from Rog was excellent. Passion, Football, Empathy and Courage were reiterated constantly. LOTS of research was done - we must have looked at 500 crests for inspiration before the pen was put to paper. The nostalgic nature of various calls allowed us to discuss what the mark needed to stand for and what elements we wanted to integrate into the final crest
Rog: When you look at it, what stands out to you?
Karl: The simplicity of what was created is what stands out most to me. There was never any pressure to cram a bunch of narrative into the final mark - something that seems to have become the norm in soccer crest designs these days.
Rog: Sports logo design is like a micro-craft. Packing detail into an area tighter than Rog's below ground in squeaky bum time. Which element are you most proud of in this one?
Karl: Trying to stay true to the original logo, my approach was evolution, not revolution. I wanted to move the mark forward - particularly from a legibility POV when reproduced small online, in print and on merch. Every now and then, you get to work on a project where the perfect idea just happens within the first few sketches. I realized that the lapels of the jackets could be drawn to look like the letters M,I and B. Not instantly recognizable, I am really proud of the easter egg. Hopefully somewhat like the FedEx logo - once you realize there is an arrow between the 'E and the x’ - you cannot unsee it.
Rog: What do you experience emotionally when you see a team take the field/ice/podcasting studio with your logo? Does it feel like you've left an indelible mark on that organization?
Karl: There is definitely a sense of pride that someone trusted you enough to represent them and their team/league. Good design can be very powerful to not only create a fan base/community but to allow it to grow - hopefully globally. The internet is a lot of things - when used correctly, an online community - whether it be around soccer, gaming, knitting or gardening, can be a wonderful and inclusive place to be. Men in Blazers has created just that.
Karl Hudson is a professional designer and has worked with Teams, Leagues and Federations for over 20 years. Originally from Nottingham, England, he relocated to New York in 2011. Not one to take it too far, Karl realized there was no Nottingham Forest Supporter Group in NYC so he started one himself. @nffcnyc meet weekly at Smithfield Hall and are looking forward to watching every game on Peacock now that the Reds are back in the Premier League after a 23 year hiatus.
About Rick Banks: Rick is the founder of a font foundry and design studio called F37®. The studio is based in Manchester, UK and works with brands across the globe. Rick was born in Manchester but raised in Bolton so he supports Bolton Wanderers. "Yes, it’s painful!"
Rog: When did you know you were as obsessed with the numbers on the back of shirts as you were with the game itself?
Rick: Little did I know it, but my interest came when I was very young. When I was eight years old, I begged my mum to buy me a Manchester United shirt with Peter Schmeichel’s surname on the back. Even though he wasn’t a Bolton player, Schmeichel was my favorite footballer, and I was fascinated with the slab serif font in which his name appeared. I remember doodling it in my school sketchbook. My mum gave in, kindly bought the shirt and brought it home. But when I opened it I cried my eyes out. The Umbro logo was missing, and the font was all wrong. It just wasn’t the same. This is my earliest memory of fascination with typography and I’ve taken an interest ever since.
Rog: Is there one moment that really stands out to you?
Rick: Back in 2006, Tottenham Hotspur were front runners and visionaries in approaching an agency to look at their whole branding system. The brand agency re-drew their logo, making it modern, clean and suitable for the digital age of small screens. They commissioned a font foundry to draw a distinctive corporate font. This font features in all their communications and fans have the choice between the Premier League lettering or Tottenham's lettering when they go to the club shop. When you see Tottenham’s motto ‘to dare is to do’, or SPURS TV set in their typeface you instantly know it’s Tottenham, even if it’s at a subconscious level. Their font continues to be used today and still looks great, which is testament to the club, brand agency and font foundry.
Another significant development was when Real Madrid bought Ronaldo in 2009. Madrid commissioned typographers to draw a bespoke alphabet in Latin, Chinese, Japanese and Arabic to appeal to the ever-increasing global markets. Ronaldo instantly sold more jerseys than David Beckham.
Rog: Can you talk about your process of designing a font specifically for a company, league or team.
Rick: This is determined by the brief provided to us and can take many forms. For example we’ve recently designed the corporate font for the MLS and we also designed their shirt lettering. Two totally different briefs. The corporate font had to be really hard-working, whereas we had more freedom with the shirt lettering.
Using the MLS crest as a starting point, we began the gargantuan task of creating the MLS Tifo Super Family and provided the client with lots of different initial sketches. MLS Tifo is a Neo-Grotesque font made up of three subfamilies (Headline, Standard and Micro) that can go from quiet to loud and works equally well in print and on screen. We’ve developed weights from Light to Extra Bold, widths of Regular to Wide and optical sizes ranging from text to headlines.
We created MLS Tifo as a fully variable font. This means that with flexible web development MLS Tifo can tweak its four parameters in real time to look super-crisp at small sizes or punchy at large sizes (depending on screen size and font size). As it’s just a single file, rather than 30, loading times are really quick and responsive.
As part of its 25th birthday celebrations in 2020, MLS commissioned us to create their new name and number font. They wanted it to feel edgy and progressive, and to be capable of use ‘beyond the jersey’, on other products and marketing materials. Inspired by the Penrose Triangle (or impossible triangle) the lettering has a simple optical illusion that makes you look twice. And then look again.
Recently, we have also designed the new A-League corporate font, name and numbers. Again, the brief was very specific, needing to match their new branding system designed by agency R/GA.
We used the 120° angle of the hexagon shape, often found on footballs and R/GA's new symbol as a starting point to create Cavallo. It’s a super font family with a wide variety of weights and styles.
Angular and dramatic, it looks gutsy and passionate in bold, yet beautiful and sophisticated in lighter weights. The small cuts and angled terminals play with your eyes, giving you the impression that the letters have been rendered in 3D. Cavallo Text takes the core forms of the display styles and pairs them back so as to not distract or render poorly at smaller sizes. This was achieved by giving the text style smaller bevels, looser spacing and a reduced x-height, all to aid in legibility and readability.
Additionally, we created bespoke jersey numbers based on angularity and hexagonal shapes. Further, Cavallo was supplied as a variable font, creating possibilities for interactive typographic animations such as reacting to crowd noise in stadiums. GOOOAL! Or for flexible typesetting, such as using its variable widths to counter the age-old issue of long or double-barrelled names having to be squeezed onto jerseys.
Rog: What's your biggest pet peeve about some certain football fonts and the way teams use them?
Rick: My biggest peeve in the early noughties was ‘squeezed’ and ‘stretched’ typefaces. Thankfully, we are seeing less of this practice as it sends shivers down most type designer’s spines. But we are still seeing badly drawn types from graphic designers and a failure to instruct experts to refine the lettering. I consider that’s why we stand out as we are both a design agency and a font foundry and therefore have the skills of graphic designers and type designers.
Rog: Greatest number 10 of all time? – not the player, the font!
Rick: Vaughton by Paul Barnes is one of my favorite number 10’s created for the 2012 England Kit — not the player though, that would be Zidane!