I Love/Hate That Logo: A Look at the USA Swimming Event Logo Process

Anytime an organization redesigns a logo it creates the opportunity (or burden) for the “Monday Morning Quarterback” of the creative world. For example, you can find numerous pro or con dissections of logo redesign projects.

Earlier today, USA Swimming entered that world by introducing a new identity for its championship events. USA Swimming worked with Colle+McVoy of Minneapolis, which is the advertising agency that designed the SwimToday campaign materials to create the marks.

USA Swimming Event Logos

When looking at logos, people typically have a gut reaction on how it appeals to them.

It’s human nature to make a judgment on the design, colors, shape and font of a new logo. But behind-the-scenes, there typically is a compelling “why” behind redesigning a mark. If not, then there are probably greater problems!

Here’s a peek behind the “why” of redesigning the new USA Swimming championship event marks.

Why Redesign Logos at All?
We challenged ourselves with this fundamental question from the beginning. As a marketer, changing logos is always a creative temptation. At best it is being progressive and being disruptive, at worst it is changing things for the sake of change or to satisfy a marketing ego.

We have to make sure there are sound business reasons before setting graphic designers free. Some of the factors that led us to our decisions:

  • Arena inherited the name “Grand Prix Series” when the company came on board as a sponsor in 2013. When promoting the event to fans and non-swimming media, it took considerable explanation that this wasn’t an auto racing event. We have changed the name to Arena Pro Swim Series to create a more fan-facing name and better describe the six-event circuit that brings our sport’s best athletes to hometowns of swimmers and fans nationwide. A fan immediately gets the simple, 3-letter word “pro.” (Yes, the NCAA is on board and high school and college athletes can still compete!)
  • The Speedo Champions Series was the official name of the event, but the swimming community referred to the event as “Sectionals” out of habit. In the same way that a University will put sidewalks in the paths where students cut across the grass anyway, we embraced the phrase most used. Personally, I like the alliteration as well.
  • The Futures Championships is a new event and therefore was in need of a mark. I anticipate a title sponsor becoming involved in this potentially as early as 2015.

We took the factors above and combined that with a few areas of opportunity.

  • Modernize – We wanted to make the events appeal to a teen audience, since those are the athletes IN the competitions! Traditional swimming logos feature a profile of a swimmer doing freestyle, so we wanted to creatively challenge or “disrupt” that look.

USA Swimming Nationals Logos

  • Simplify – Previous logos communicated a lot of information, such as title sponsor, event name, USA Swimming logo, city, dates, etc. We wanted to strip those elements down to make it simpler and less cluttered. In this case, less is certainly more.

Speedo Junior Nationals Logos

  • Cohesion – For those outside the sport, it could be confusing on how a particular event “fits” in the continuum of events. Swimmers know they are each stepping stones to the next level. So for those inside the sport, we wanted to give athletes the aspiration to achieve the next level. What 4-star general doesn’t want to become a 5-star general? For every Michael Phelps, Missy Franklin, Ryan Lochte and Natalie Coughlin who started at Sectionals there are thousands of other swimmers who hope to follow their path.

USA Swimming Event Hierarchy

In redesigning logos the process you follow can make or break a project. It’s important to achieve consensus on whether to redesign logos in the first place. If not, the creative efforts are doomed to fail. That doesn’t always mean full agreement, but at least providing the opportunity for people to voice opinions.

Then, there has to be agreement on the creative direction and vision before any designer starts to work. Basically the question to answer is, “What are we trying to achieve with our identity?” When it comes to creative preferences for those people who like blue more than red, for example, there is a foundation to make a judgment on whether the creative achieves the greater strategy.

With so many people (and opinions) involved, there were naturally numerous iterations of the logos. Some took creative license and pushed outside of the comfort zone. It’s important to have at least one version to do that and challenge what has been the norm. We actually rejected one direction we loved, but felt it was too trendy. A logo has to stand the test of time.

It was clear we wanted to shift from the traditional logo design of a profile freestyle swimmer.

From there we transformed the images into graphic designs that displayed the details of swimmers in competition. It was great see the transformation and how those shapes fit into the final logo.

USA Swimming Logo Comparison

Getting buy-in up front from the sponsors was also critical. One of our biggest areas of anxiety going into this project was getting four corporate partners – Arena, AT&T, Phillips 66 and Speedo – to approve their own event logo, knowing they each have strict brand guidelines for their own companies. Thankfully, they all supported the vision of the events and approved.

But the athletes are the key. As part of this process we interviewed members of the Junior Pan Pac team as they are (hopefully) future National Team athletes and achievers in the sport. We also interviewed local teen swimmers at USA Swimming clubs in the Colorado area.

Final Results
The process started in April 2014 and we are proud to release it today.

The athletes, fans and media covering the sport will be the ultimate judge of the success of this project, so we look forward to hearing your feedback! If you want to comment on the logos, please let us know at @USASwimming.


Categories: Marketing, Olympics

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