A major college football facility’s players’ lounge is more than a few comfortable pieces of furniture and a ping pong table. A locker room has more than a place to hang gear. And the tunnel through the stadium to the field offers more than just a passageway. Every aspect of these spaces represents a place to create, a place to define a brand, a place to inspire student-athletes and a place to entice a recruit.
Graphic design plays a key role in this experience.
Putting a Premium on Storytelling
“We root everything in a story, in a uniqueness of graphic design and move out from that position,” says John Downie, vice president of experience for Advent, a leader in the field of turning sport-oriented space into fan or player experience. “We look to define a graphic tone, an experience tone, and layer on what we need to achieve that.”
For the Nashville-based Advent team, remaking college football facilities and stadiums has turned into a staple. From Florida State’s players’ lounge to TCU’s locker room and Mississippi State’s Hall of Fame to Arkansas’ updated stadium, the initial approach remains the same, whether a simple freshening of space of a multi-million-dollar capital project. “Integral to our process, something we apply to every job, the heart of that process is story mining,” Downie says. Working with staff, coaches and players, the Advent team starts every project by “excavating down through levels of stories,” searching for a way to make the program’s narrative come to life with a unique perspective.
With stories in hand, Advent then devises the best places to tell those stories. Advent will often end up touching locker rooms, team training rooms, coaching rooms, player lounges and even public-facing hallways, visitors’ centers and lobbies. With so much space to cover, Downie says the story mining allows them to map out the ideal location to position stories. Maybe coaching messages and mantras not designed for public consumption land in inner-sanctum areas and public-facing stories, such as the history of success of a program, find their way to public-facing lobbies or hallways.
With stories defined, next comes design. Handling everything from a 20-foot by 10-foot wall with a graphic to multi-thousand-square-foot rooms, Downie says creating a mix of materials and dimensions during design becomes a must.
“If we covered everything in a vinyl wall covering, it would feel very flat,” he says. “There is no dimensionality there. We are using furniture, physical materials, light, audio to create a richer sense of experience. It allows a user to be part of a space rather than a passive observer to a space. Structure and material allows us to build a space around an audience to involve them, rather than just a simple passive narrative.”
The locker room offers a prime example, with three-dimensional logos hanging from ceilings to create a central gathering point, LED design around individual lockers and digital signage that can change at the direction of the coach. “There is a lot of optionality available to us,” he says.
While Advent doesn’t look to have materials inform the design approach, the value of material helps as they balance the visual hierarchy of scale and story. With some of the spaces so large, Downie says they need to layer elements. Massive graphic montages can swallow up smaller elements, requiring the use of typography and graphic to work in harmony. “We want people to come up and study individual stories and then step back,” he says. “The graphic design approach has to be in sympathy with the stories.”
Even as people immerse in the intimate stories, plenty of spaces wow with powerful visual impact. Using physical materials, whether steel or glass or lights, help create a multi-dimensional approach. Beyond materials, the use of lights and sound — a DJ booth, for example, can help players really shape the experience of a lounge — further accentuate the strategy behind graphics.
With each program deeply rooted in pre-existing colors and type, Advent always looks for type and color options that sit alongside the central brand, but “allows us to turn the dial up and down for messaging when we need it.”
“Those splash graphics, we can use the purple and red given to us, but we can’t create purple and red everywhere,” Downie says as an example. “We look at what colors we are able to inject and a graphic style over the brand language given to us to allows the space to engage, be understood and stand out.”
Engage. Stand out. Creating an experience in sports space requires the use of multi-dimensional design.
Tim Newcomb covers sports design for HOW. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.