Categories
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.

Categories
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.

Categories
Business Design Measurement Strategy

Gut versus data – the eternal question

From the HB Blog

I used to be a math geek. When I was a grade school and high school student, I displayed advanced behaviors with regards to numbers and their interrelationships. I nearly attended a technical university in order to continue exploring mathematics.

Funny track for a designer, no?

Today, as someone who designs experiences for other humans, I rely less on my knowledge of numbers and more on my intuition. The ubiquitous head-versus-heart argument has always intrigued me so I recently scoured the web for some additional insight. Here’s a sampling of what I found:

But that means us too, as leaders, need to have the guts to go with our intuition sometimes instead of hiding behind the numbers. Hiding behind the numbers is the easy way, because even if it goes wrong, it’s easy for us to say that with the information we had it seemed pretty clear that that was what we should have tried blah blah blah. What’s harder is making a decision because you feel like it’s the one that needs to be made. Your gut tells you it’s the right one. You won’t have the luxury of hiding behind the numbers if you’re wrong, but at least you’re actually thinking and making decisions instead of doing what the numbers tell you to do. – workplace MOJO

Don’t get me wrong — you need data. You should be gathering all the data you can from the very beginning. But you also need to know that your data is not absolute — it’s incomplete, and you simply don’t have enough of it to base your decisions fully on data. You gather all the inputs you can, but your decision really boils down to both using your head AND trusting your gut. So while there’s no exact formula, when it’s time to make the decision of whether to make a change or stick with your original business plan: gather your data, consider all the advice, and take some time to listen to what your gut has to say. – The Accelerators blog

Howard Gardner, a Harvard professor and psychologist, said “gut instinct is basically a form of pattern recognition.” Our brains can process more information on a more sophisticated level than most of us realize. These complex systems — battlefields, financial markets, company cultures and corporate strategies — require a different kind of thinking based on the informed gut. In these situations, you will never collect enough data or be able to weigh every alternative in order to rationalize an analytical decision. However, your subconscious has already amassed sufficient cues to tell your gut how to move forward. All you have to do is listen to it, trust your instincts and make the best decision you can with the limited information available. – Austin Business Journal

You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards… you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life. – Steve Jobs, Stanford commencement speech, June 2005

Did you need data to choose your life-partner? How about your alma mater? Was there deep analysis that led you to choose the name of your first-born? Likely, not. But you still can’t tell your board or your leadership team that you need to launch a new service offering, because ‘your gut says so’.” The Reaganesque ‘Trust But Verify’ works for us. Use your guts to lead you to a hypothesis. Use your intuition to decide on how best to verify it. Then, go get the data and build the case to win over your peers and bosses. Sooner or later, the decision-makers will need to trust their guts to make the call. After all, even when the evidence is beyond the shadow of a doubt, the decider needs to take a leap of faith when the time comes to choose.” – Corporater World

In the end, the debate continues, but one strategy remains clear: balance helps with decision-making. Both your gut and the numbers need to play critical roles in both design and business decisions.

Categories
Design Strategy

The cyclical life of web design

What I learned at An Event Apart Boston 2014

From Medium

As a web designer, I’ve learned that the practice is young, difficult, ever-changing, and cyclical. “What we’re doing is hard and scary!” says Kristina Halvorson, CEO of Brain Traffic. “We are all perpetually catching up.”

During this year’s An Event Apart Boston, a fantastically-designed gathering of folks who make websites, I recalled my time at Syracuse University in 2003. We read an essay by Jakob Nielsen discussing some of the practical requirements for any website:

  • Legibility
  • Accessibility
  • Simplicity
  • Compatibility
  • Performance

Essentially, Nielsen wrote that web experiences are for humans.

After reading Nielsen’s work, my fellow students discussed web design principles and I recall many of us (myself included) saying things like, “who cares? Let’s make a site that just looks awesome!” Oh, to be young again.

The tenants of websites shared by Nielsen over a decade ago are en vogue yet again in our constant struggle to create useful, meaningful experiences on the web. After listening to AEA’s dozen speakers, I took away a few key messages:

“Web design is an environment for someone else’s expression.” ­– Jeffrey Zeldman

“Sign off on content hierarchy instead of design.” ­– Sarah Parmenter

“Think of responsive web design as a catalyst. It introduces complexity through nuance. We have the tools and skills already.” ­– Dan Mall

“Design to human scale.” ­– Luke Wroblewski

“Our work is not personal but together.” ­– Kristina Halvorson

“Design is the rendering of intent.” ­– Jared Spool

“Think content first, and navigation second.” ­– Jeremy Keith

Many of the observations from the panel of speakers have very little to do with specific design strategies and focus more on the importance of content and user experience. Essentially, it is our job as designers to get out of the way. Nielsen’s observations and suggestions remain true to today’s web design strategies. Zeldman’s words summarize it best:

“A great website makes interaction easy, guides you subtly to your heart’s desire, can be invisible or in your face, and it delights.

Content must lead design. Performance is critical. The user experience must be simple and work across all devices.

And college students should pay attention to intelligent thinkers and practitioners.

Categories
Design Media Podcast Sports

A new venture

The Design Game: a podcast about the role of design in sports.

In November, I reached out to good friend David Merriell about starting a podcast. I had been feeling creatively unsatisfied for some time and wanted to explore a new outlet. We knew we wanted to discuss something of which we both enjoyed and were knowledgable. Through a suggestion from David, we settled on the idea of discussing the role of design in sports. After a couple of name changes, The Design Game was born.

Being first-time podcasters, we learned a lot in the months leading up to our first episodes – equipment, editing, technology, RSS feeds, and the iTunes store. We thank Cliff Ravenscraft of Podcast Answer Man for his incredibly useful tutorials. Without his clear, concise YouTube clips, we’d still be fumbling around the internet trying to figure out the podcasting workflow.


Our first four episodes explore both the smallest design challenges like 1-game uniform designs to larger challenges like the design of NBA All-Star Weekend events. In the coming months, we’ll explore golf fashion and culture surrounding The Masters, European football and jerseys with ads, and throwback culture.

We hope you will listen and we look forward to sharing our thoughts on all things design-related in the sports world.

You can listen to every episode on iTunes or at thedesigngame.com