Standing out from the crowd
This week saw Bristol City announce the unveiling of the new club identity launching at the start of next season. Their new crest incorporates a minimalist 'robin' icon that will be the fundamental symbol of the club brand going forward.
An approach to minimalism and flat design have been a consistent feature of rebrands in recent times and it is evident that this fashion has started making its way onto the football scene. Much like a company logo, a club crest serves as the most recognisable and public facing feature of any brand.
Just like in Bristol City’s previous case traditional crests are comprised of many complex elements, often depicting numerous areas of a city/town’s heritage. These detailed and complicated shapes can be problematic when it comes to flexibility, as a crest now needs to look as recognisable on a 120px app icon as it does on the latest home shirt.
The revamped identity follows familiar trends we see in everyday rebranding exercises where simplicity is the primary objective and any ornamental features are removed. The decorative coat of arms inspired crest has replaced by a distinctive line icon that effectively communicates the clubs nickname 'The Robins'.
An obvious difference between the two designs is the limited use of colour. The gold, blue and green of old have been removed in preference for a more controlled palette resulting in a much more imposing symbol. The previous traditional serif typeface has been replaced with a bold sans-serif, remaining all caps but with some added tracking to the letterforms, which is proving a popular choice across many recent brand overhauls.
The simplicity of this now allows the crest to be scaled and adapted to suit a number of different scenarios such as in back and white, where the previous version would have lost all character just looking like another coat of arms.
Heritage v Marketability
One of the more obvious examples of a football club fully embracing a modern approach to their corporate identity is that of Juventus. As the second oldest team still active in Italy it was a huge gamble to implement such a drastic change of image to a club renown for it's heritage and tradition.
The only feature that remains from the old crest is the black and white stripes and even then it has been reduced to its most basic structure with the clever use of negative space within the 'J' monogram. The simplicity of the icon allows it to be applied to every platform at every size, whilst always remaining recognisable due to its unique shape.
A custom sans-serif typeface has been introduced and is an instantly distinguishable part of the brand, whether it be displayed on stadium signage or on the back of a Ronaldo 7 shirt it serves as a unifying element throughout the entirety of the Juventus identity. A controversial move sees previous mainstays of the 1905 club crest (Turin Bull, oval shield, crown) be completely removed to make way for the new minimal identity.
Football fans hold strong values when it comes to honouring tradition and are notoriously renown for their reluctance to accept change (the introduction of Video Action Replay being a recent example), so to implement a change as dramatic as this always carries a risk of upsetting a large proportion of the fan base.
The jury is still out whether an example as extreme as this has proved a success, but it will be fascinating to see if another club is inspired by the Juventus experiment to completely overhaul their image in a similar fashion.
When it doesn't go to plan
Perhaps the most controversial (and short lived) of crest redesigns was that of Leeds United in January 2018. After six months of research and consulting over 10,000 people the club released plans for an updated crest to celebrate the centenary year as a football club.
The new design took inspiration from the 'Leeds Salute', a gesture performed by supporters and sometimes seen in player goal celebrations, which would seem a logical addition to the brand with it already being a feature that unites the fan base. However, the execution of this inclusion immediately caused outrage of as it completely replaced every other element of the existing crest.
One of the most immediate observations is the removal of the white rose which completely abandons Leeds' well known connection to their Yorkshire Heritage. Whilst it could be argued that the new colour scheme does subtly hint at this due to it incorporating much more white in the design, the club could have avoided less backlash had they found a way to retain such a traditional element of the identity.
Another striking difference in the redesign is the decision to ditch the LUFC script typography which had proved a popular feature in the brand since its introduction in the 1970's. The replacement is a bold upper-case sans serif which interestingly spells out the full name of the club as opposed abbreviating like the previous version.
Decorative features such as gradients, drop shadows and bevelled edges were all removed to make way for a flat design featuring only three colours and simple shapes, the stroke surrounding the shield was one of the only elements that remained.
Substantial changes such as these lead to the club withdrawing the proposed idea after a petition received over 70,000 signatures calling for the club to abandon the design. Leeds still plan to update the crest for their centenary season in 2019/20 but have agreed for the next design to have a fan involved process.
What can we learn
Just like any brand football clubs also need their image to keep up with the ever changing pace of technology, this will always prove a risky balancing act of staying on top of current trends but being careful not to alienate a fan base by ignoring tradition and heritage.
However, it is evident that there is growing trend for football clubs to follow similar protocols when revamping their identity as that of mainstream companies as similarities of process are beginning to surface more and more.
Regular features in modern rebrand experiments often consist of:
- Number of total colours reduced
- Flat colours favoured over gradients
- Removal of any 3D effects or drop shadows
- Ornamental/Decorative elements removed
- Sans-serif typography preference
- Strokes removed around objects
Recent examples where this has been demonstrated in everyday company rebrands: Mastercard, Instagram, Deliveroo, airbandb...some of which are highlighted in the following feature: https://www.dezeen.com/2016/08/31/minimalist-rebranding-design-logos-graphics/
If the crossover between football and design is something that takes your fancy then be sure to check out our fantastic microsite dedicated to celebrating Manchester United based fanzine artwork.