NBA’s Hawks Show Nimble Design Across Social Media


Every social media channel has a distinct design direction, but one thread remains common: the need for design nimbleness. The NBA’s Atlanta Hawks have shown adept nimbleness better than most in professional sports, bouncing between the fun world of Twitter irreverence, the video-heavy feel of Facebook and the visually arresting opportunities of Instagram. And they do it all quickly.

Peter Sorckoff, Hawks chief creative officer and executive vice president of brand an innovation, tells HOW Design that his team understands the goals of each social channel, allowing for the Hawks to embrace having fun while designing across the diversity.

The Hawks play well on Twitter. Jaryd Wilson leads the digital content for Atlanta and “he has done a brilliant job of dimensionalizing our voice in that space. It is about being fun.”

The Hawks don’t mind irreverence and chipping into conversations happening around them. “Visually you have to be really agile in that space,” Sorckoff says. “Stuff trends fast and then trends down and goes away. If it takes you too long to draft anything you can very quickly miss the boat. Twitter is kind of a funny space—I’m not saying there isn’t serious and a lot of ugly—but a lot of people demonstrate a lot of humor. If your art is clever, that gets really nice uptake in the Twitter space.”

When Atlanta launched its season schedule, for example, they rolled it out on Twitter first in a series of emojis. Every game was represented by an emoji and it turned into an engaging riddle to figure out what teams were represented by which emoji. “It got massive uptake because it was fun,” Sorkoff says. “It was a really clever way to engage that audience in particular.”

But that is Twitter. That isn’t every social channel. Turning to Facebook, the Hawks rely heavily on video, but not heavily produced polished pieces. Instead they focus on behind-the-scenes types of video, staying topical in a fast-paced production cycle. And, of course, “humor never loses.”


“Anything that puts a smile on a face typically people are pretty happy to share,” Sorckoff says. “Maybe that is why cat videos work. That is our approach there.”

For Instagram, the trick is taking a single fantastic photo and using it to tell a story. “If you can do that I think that is where you can be really, really effective,” he says. The Hawks do put out game photos and other event-style photography on their feed, but his favorite posts are the single frame that tells the story or captures the essence of the game in the same way a writer would craft a headline.

Dennis Schröder records a career-high 28 points as we take home the victory! —– #TrueToAtlanta

A post shared by Atlanta Hawks (@atlhawks) on

The Atlanta design team spends more time designing for Twitter, working for the clever approach of giving a new perspective on what everyone is already seeing. “My favorite stuff out there is something that leaves the reader thinking ‘did they really mean this or did they mean that?’” Sorckoff says. “It is something that sinks in second level that makes you want to share.”

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When the Hawks redesigned their uniform in 2015 they did so with all sorts of design—including social media—in mind, embracing the team’s red-based history, but also bringing in a volt green. That green has given the Hawks a distinct look on the court, but has proven highly valuable in social design.

“Having a color like that, it is not a huge part of the uniform, but it is dominate where you do use it,” Sorckoff says. “It gives the design team and creative team more options.” He offers the example of using the volt to move the eye to the area he wants you to see first. With the “perfect post” a mix of great design to draw people to an amazing photo, volt green is captivating and hard to look past.

“I’ve lived in that world of red, white and navy blue and for something to really pop I might have had to take a photo and go black and white and use splashes of red to move somebody to where I wanted them to look first,” Sorckoff says. “For us, because we have this additional range now, it is just more tools in the box.”

The Hawks want to use those tools as often as possible, especially to connect with a younger demographic that has grown especially interested in fashion, entertainment and design. With design a passion point, Sorckoff says they need to find as many ways to embrace that passion, giving the Hawks more brand dimension, whether across social media or in traditional avenues.

“Design really matters for people and moves people in that emotive space,” Sorckoff says. “When they get into the emotive space they consume differently.” The Hawks design for emotion. And along the way they embrace nimbleness on social media.

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