Student Designers Create Winning Visual System in NFL Collaboration

Student Wing-Sze Ho bristles at the idea that his Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) team simply created a “pattern” as part of a school-led competition to design for the NFL. His team, called Quicksnap, spent far too many hours devoted to the project to allow the final result to be lessened by the mere word.

“We didn’t make patterns. That made them something less,” he says, noting it was odd that the team felt so strongly about a simple word choice. “We designed a visual system that was supposed to work for merchandise that licensees need to sell. It needed to fit as small as a keychain and as big as a truck. It is a scalable visual system.”


Designs that formed the basis for the visual system created by team Quicksnap.

Ho wasn’t the only student working on this first-ever collaboration between the New York-based FIT, a SUNY school, and the NFL. Professors C.J. Yeh (also of HOW-award-winning studio Cynda Media Lab) and Christie Shin designed the project starting in spring 2016 before finalizing a contract with the NFL last summer. The project wasn’t part of a class, but an extracurricular competition student designers applied to join.

Overall, FIT selected 25 students from 11 different majors and split them into six teams. Ho’s winning team, for example, included four students in four different years of study and with four different majors, a cross-pollination of backgrounds that Yeh says was instrumental in fulfilling the vision of the NFL and Ho says was crucial in helping the team understand the many facets of creating this visual system across a wide variety of products.

The framework was simple: Don’t redesign any NFL team logos, but create visuals around all 32 logos to reach Millennials and Gen Z. “[The NFL] was looking for fresh ideas that really could speak the language of the new generations,” Yeh says.

Denver Broncos tote bag and New Orleans Saints lapel pin

With the teams walking through a guided experiential learning process—something in between a class and an internship—the fall kicked off with research on the NFL and team culture, which included plenty of in-person interviews.

Since the NFL works with roughly 200 licensees, everything from bedding to vehicles, “the biggest challenge for students was that this system had to be designed and made available to all these different products,” Yeh says.

New England Patriots throw pillow and Dallas Cowboys mug

To get the competition started, the teams made an early mockup for fashion, hard goods, soft goods and a unique application (anything from a skateboard to a surfboard). In the first round, all teams designed for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Seattle Seahawks and Miami Dolphins, a representative cross-section of colors, logos and culture. The round narrowed each team’s design concepts to one, allowing the FIT groups to then add the Cleveland Browns and New York Giants to the design mix. After teams received feedback they applied the design to 16 NFL teams. “Every single step, the student teams were given the same NFL clubs to work with,” Yeh says. “Each was planned to challenge them and see how adaptable the visual systems are.”


San Francisco 49ers patch

Quicksnap garnered the grand-prize designation from a panel of NFL-led judges, netting them $15,000 and the right to create a complete 32-team set made available to all NFL licensees. The team won’t simply hand over artwork, but offer a real sense of how the design applies across a variety of product. The second-place team, Sundrae, earned $5,000 and will complete a 32-team set, just like the People’s Choice award-winning team, Blitz.

“We entered this project with FIT with the hopes of exploring new ways to reach and engage with the NFL’s growing fan base by incorporating a fresh look into the products they already love,” says Rhiannon E. Madden, NFL’s vice president of consumer products. “The passion and dedication from the students far exceeded our expectations and the work resulted in exceptional, inspired and innovative approaches to compliment the NFL marks. We are so excited to see what our licensees do with the students’ designs this upcoming football season.”


 New York Jets sneaker

Quicksnap’s design, Ho explains, offers something that is both new and recognizable. “It still belongs to (the team),” he says. “Sports fans are territorial, but it is something that is active and energetic enough that it would attract the attention of a group with the attention span of rabbits. It is ever-evolving, but conveys energy every time.”

During the process, the team had to adapt its design strategy, Ho says, creating an abstract approach when dealing with intricate logos and a less abstract approach when the logo wasn’t as detailed. Along the way, Quicksnap never deviated from the original color palette. “One of the main factors was the ability for (the system) to be recognized,” he says. “We didn’t want to throw away all that eyeball history. We had more room when it came to graphic shape.”

As the team wraps up the design on the final few NFL teams, Ho says they’ve already started to get anxious to see the work translated to the real world. “Most of the time in school we work on imaginary briefs for imaginary clients and I don’t think it dawned on us until we saw designs on mockup products that this isn’t a school project any more,” he says. “This is something that is going to be outside in the world.”

And it isn’t simply a pattern, rather an entire scalable visual system.