Design Sports

Contrast, color theory, and the Milwaukee Bucks

Much has been said when it comes to color theory: certain colors emote specific feelings; never use purple; green means go.

Coming from a communications school (shouts out to Newhouse!), we didn’t focus much on color theory – we focused on communication and legibility. To this day, communication grounds me in my best practices color: it’s about contrast and nothing else. Showing depth? Lean on contrast. Pairing complementary colors? Lean on contrast. Increasing the legibility of type? Lean on contrast.

Which brings me to another love of mine: NBA uniforms (my Evernote app just auto-corrected “uniforms” to “undies” — that’s an entirely different blog post which is likely behind a paywall). My beloved Boston Celtics recently eliminated the Milwaukee Bucks in the first round of the playoffs with the Bucks in their second full year of a new uniform system. Simply put, they look like nothing else in the league… and that’s a good thing. It’s a unique color scheme with modern type and lots of flexibility. I see only one issue — and that’s contrast.

The Bucks' road uniforms are green.
Matthew Dellavedova wears the new Milwaukee Bucks icon uniform set.

Let’s take a look at their green “icon” uniform set, my favorite of the bunch. That custom font is fantastic! Note the way that “Milwaukee” sits on the jersey. It’s white type with a cream outline (Milwaukee is known as the Cream City, a reason for one of the team’s tertiary colors and an entire separate alternate uniform).

In this case, I prefer my uniform without cream. The cream is too similar to the white in the word mark, creating a blurry effect on what should be bold, sharp letter forms. Even worse, it crowds the letters, creating a jumbled word mark.

Here, I believe some contrast would help. Perhaps “Milwaukee” would be better served in cream without an outline. This creates sharper letters, a smoother word, and significantly better legibility. Alternatively, “Milwaukee” could be set in white, but that’s a lost opportunity to use a unique supporting brand color.

The Bucks’ uni set is one of the strongest in the league and is unique across the sporting world. I’m thoroughly impressed with the design work from Doubleday & Cartwright… and with more contrast, these unis could be all-timers.

Podcast Speaking Writing

Brevity is the soul of wit

It’s funny how new ideas aren’t so new. They are the product of time, energy, and seemingly unrelated events. This is how my new writing project, Two Minute Stories, came to be. To sum up, I write and recite short tales of fiction in less than two minutes. How did I get here?

It all started with my junior year of high school where I met Mr. Dunphy, my English teacher. Before his class, I had little to no interest in writing and literature… but I quickly learned to appreciate the creative arts through stories like Heart of Darkness and Frankenstein. He pushed me to write across many disciplines: poetry, short stories, and essays. I had the bug.

102416-2msFrom there, I focused my college minor on creative writing. We practiced writing a lot. I continued developing my skills and devouring great modern fiction like The Intuitionist (shout out to Colson Whitehead!), Snow Crash, The Shipping News, and Native Speaker. This was fun.

After college, I kept at it. Even in my design roles, I gravitated towards the writing, looking for interesting ways to pair language with typography and layout. As if that weren’t enough, I met Nicolas Boillot and was introduced to the world of scriptwriting. He pushed my then co-worker Matt Gustavsen and I to better understand the medium, concept of story, and the power of simplicity. We worked together on a screenplay and made each other better. During my time with Nicolas and Matt, I kept an Evernote notebook full of “story ideas.” They ranged from simple two-sentence summaries to fully developed narratives. I continue this practice today.

More recently, I’ve had the pleasure of co-hosting The Design Game with David Merriell. Our podcast on the role of design in sports introduced me to yet another medium, one that required the power of audio and voice. We continue to investigate this vast world of podcasts.

Earlier this year, I caught wind of a new app called Anchor. It encouraged users to share short audio clips with the world (never more than two minutes). Followers could then reply with their own voice. I was intrigued by the constraints from a storytelling perspective.

All of that history brings us to today. After years in the making, I’m ecstatic to formally launch Two Minute Stories. I’ve been sharing some early stories on Anchor over the past few weeks… but now it’s time to share with other folks. Starting today, you can here Two Minute Stories on Anchor, SoundCloud, and as a podcast through iTunes. I’ll share 1-2 stories every week and look forward to hearing your thoughts. At a minimum, I would love for you to leave a review on iTunes as it will greatly help the visibility of the podcast early in its life.

Admittedly, this missive was neither brief nor witty… but hopefully you can find some of both in Two Minute Stories. Happy listening!




The world lost Arnold Palmer this week… but the world won Arnold Palmer for 87 years and counting.

Golf is in my blood; golf is family. And as of yesterday, we no longer get to hear the most important member of golf’s family.

I never met my grandfathers (or Arnold, not surprisingly) so when an older gentleman like Arnold spoke on TV, I listened. I listened to his stories, his commentary, and his passion for helping children. I loved his grace, smile, and sense of humor.

He was my grandma’s favorite golfer, their birthdays separated by only a month in 1929. I loved talking about the sport with her, another member of my golf family. She passed two years ago and I thought of her when hearing the news of Arnie.

Arnold’s presence will certainly be felt at this week’s Ryder Cup, my favorite sporting event. It’s a biannual ode to golf competition and sportsmanship, two things that defined Arnold. Wouldn’t it be fun to watch Team USA celebrate with Arnold Palmers instead of champagne?

Death invokes sadness but also makes for a collection of wonderful stories. Arnold reminded us about the love and competition of a great game, and the grace he displayed both on and off the course.

RIP, The King.

Photo by Ed McDonald via Creative Commons

Business Design

My aesthetic is solving problems

From Medium

I’m a designer. That means I have strong views on how something can be communicated effectively. It does not mean that I have an “aesthetic” that applies to all of my work.

Can you imagine your doctor applying the same solution to your broken finger as another patient’s critical heart condition? That doctor most likely has a strong view on patient care, but treats individual medical challenges in vastly different ways.

The “aesthetic” of a design solution must change with each client or project. As the good Mike Monteiro puts it, “design is a solution to a problem with a set of constraints.” Designers are problem solvers who use visual communications as their connection to the outside world. Designers are not practitioners who use their own visual styles to solve all problems.

Here are my broad views on what typically works best in design — you’ll often find these strategies used in my designs because they work well, not because they are “mine.”

  • Generous white space around elements
  • Clear differentiation between types of text (headlines, body copy, etc.)
  • Strong use of contrast to separate elements and create depth
  • Removing extraneous information to more clearly communicate a thought, feeling, or piece of content
  • Most important: get out of the way — no one is coming to a web site for the design

The aforementioned Monteiro does a much better job communicate this idea (and many, many more) in his two fantastic books: Design is a Job and You’re My Favorite Client. Regardless of where you read it — or if you’re a designer or client — know that hiring a designer based on their so-called “aesthetic” is the wrong move.

Hire a designer (or an agency) for their ability to ask important questions, understand the problem, research effectively, and explain their choices.

Books Self

Book ’em

Favorite books of 2014

Having converted to a public transportation commuter in September, I’ve had the immense pleasure of reading a lot more than I typically would. Since Labor Day, I’ve read 11 novels, 9 non-fiction books, and 18 graphic novels. Here are my top recommendations:

The Giver by Lois Lowry
Seemingly everyone except me read this in high school. It’s a straightforward, succinct science fiction novel about a teenager given an incredible responsibility for his community. Lowry paints the family dynamic beautifully and provides a unique setting for Jonas, the main character. This was a quick, satisfying read. Great stuff!

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
A former colleague begged me to read this for years… and for good reason. The story of Louis Zamperini is uplifting, disturbing, and often unbelievable. His amazing story of survival and commitment to serving America made for an amazing book. A must-read.

The Last Policeman trilogy by Ben Winters
A detective novel set in a sci-fi world? Yes please. Winters’s straightforward writing places the reader in a world where a giant meteor is scheduled to destroy earth in only a few months. How does Detective Henry Palace operate in a world that’s changing everyday? All three books are stellar and recommended for any sci-fi enthusiast.

The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
A surprisingly enjoyable read – the setting is an international newspaper and each chapter explores a different employee. We learn about how writers, editors, and everyone in between came to work in Rome and what goes on outside their job. Worth the read for the chapter on the obituary writer alone – the words on death are heartbreaking and beautiful.

The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
A gripping post-apocalyptic-ish book in a similar vein to Cormac McCarthy’s fantastic The Road. Main character Hig lives his days guarding his home with his partner – but also finds time to fly and escape in nature. McCarthy fans will appreciate Heller’s lack of punctuation. A scary look at human behavior when the chips are down.