Ice defines the National Hockey League. It also gives NHL designers a little extra to worry about when it comes time to design the in-ice graphics for the 30 arenas throughout the league.
With skate blades scratching the ice, marring the clean sheet and spraying snow across the surface, Paul Conway, NHL’s vice president of creative, tells HOW Design that in-ice graphics need to simplify so they don’t lose impact over the course of a game or playoff series.
Now in the midst of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the NHL adds a little extra to the ice designs, opting for the Stanley Cup Playoff’s wordmark and trophy logo stretched nine feet high and 35 feet wide just inside the blue line on either offensive zone.
“The graphics that run along the blue lines are to create awareness and help market the Stanley Cup Playoff run,” Conway says. “For the casual fan, it authenticates the moment. It time stamps it too and helps identify that period.”
The NHL started experimenting with the in-ice graphics in that location ever since putting a thank-you message there in 2005 after the league’s player lockout. After its success, they continued TV testing and realized they had a new graphic asset to start producing. The evolution has taken the look from primary and secondary marks right into the special playoff design.
While a team’s near-permanent center-ice logo is often painted in, these playoff designs take a different course. Partnering with Jet Ice, the NHL design team creates the look and then Jet Ice uses a proprietary printed poly mesh product to apply the graphic. The porous polyester material created in a dye supplementation process allows designers to print graphics on paper and then place the paper on the poly mesh before a heat transfer sends the image onto the fabric for placement in the ice. Using an ice-resurfacing machine, such as a Zamboni or Olympia, crews scrape down the ice to 3/4s of an inch, lay the graphic in and flood the area with water. The new water flows through the material and freezes over it to keep it in place.
Conway says the NHL continually tests the look of the graphic, so every year they find a team that has already been eliminated from the playoffs—sports teams are quite superstitious when in the midst of a playoff run—to conduct an in-arena ice test on that year’s design.
To ensure the design runs smoothly across all 16 playoff arenas, Conway says they do such things as use the same company that paints the concrete below the ice surface to match the same white colors and eliminate the threat of a “postage stamp effect.”
And while the NHL’s Stanley Cup logos and league branding all feature black and silver, Conway’s team has to make a tweak in that to account for the ice. With the scratching and snow of the ice, simplifying the mark becomes paramount.
“The typography needs to be simplified and gradations in the primary mark need to be made a single color block,” Conway says. Early iterations had retaining shapes, but the NHL found the most success when sticking to the bare-bones basics.
But one of those basics—blacks and silvers—wasn’t ideal. “The silvers and grays start to lose their definition with the accumulation of snow,” Conway says. “So we have a contrasting color (blue) to help keep legibility in tact for the course of the playoff run. The blue color has worked well and is TV friendly.”
Conway says the contrast of the blue helps keep the design simple, which also helps with the game’s visual integrity. Plus, from a player’s standpoint, too much deep black could potentially interfere with visuals of the puck, and when the NHL goes outdoors for special-edition games, the darker colors in logos attracts the sun and can soften the ice in those spots. “We are always trying to lighten up those areas and be cognizant when creating identities to have lighter color values,” he says.
After playing with size, the 35 by 9 was a “happy medium,” with legibility high enough to be visible from the stands and retain clarity for viewers on television.
Susan Cohig, senior vice president of business affairs, tells HOW the horizontal design near the blue line keeps the Stanley Cup Playoffs mark easily separate from the four sponsor positions near the center of the ice and without interfering with game markings.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs mark design has remained relatively consistent over the last five or six years to help build equity in the design, but there’s one thing every year that changes: the final. When the Stanley Cup Final matchup comes clear, Conway says they go in and switch out the in-ice graphic, more or less switching the word “playoffs” for “final.”
An ice-defining mark for the two teams in the Stanley Cup Final.