On Sunday, Feb. 3, more than 100 million fans will tune in to Superbowl XLVII as the Baltimore Ravens take on the San Francisco 49ers. In fact, the Superbowl has historically been the most watch event every year. The pressure to design the creative assets for the game every year cannot be underestimated. Fortunately, NFL Creative Director Shandon Melvin was gracious enough to take time out of his enormously overwhelming week to give HOW an insider’s view of the design strategy of the annual NFL Superbowl. He is our hero.
1. Is all work for the Super Bowl materials handled by a dedicated in-house design team?
No. There is an unbelievable amount of creative work developed for the Super Bowl and it takes hundreds of designers to pull it off. They specialize in creating everything from apparel to signage to tv graphics. Our in-house team creates a visual language through a Super Bowl style guide that the designers build from. Then we carry it out ourselves with League-related materials like the stadium decor and environmental graphics throughout the host city.
2. How large is the design team?
The internal creative team totals 34. We’re made up of 4 art directors, 13 designers, 3 photographers, 2 production artists, 3 quality control specialists, 4 project managers and 4 brand managers. Each one of them is incredibly talented, very smart, and dedicated to the brand. The quality of their work blows me away and every single day I’m reminded how blessed I am to be a part of this team.
3. Is the team located at NFL Headquarters?
We are, and it is such a huge advantage to the team. About 10 years ago the League made a commitment to focus on the brand. They knew the best way to do this was to have a centralized brand and creative discipline working alongside the other key operations in New York at the League headquarters.
4. What is the team charged to create?
We create a style guide, or graphic toolkit, specifically for each Super Bowl. Within the guide is a full library of custom photography, type treatments, graphic elements, colors, patterns and examples of how all the pieces can be used in various ways. This guide is the key for a consistent representation of the Super Bowl no matter what the execution, or who’s designing it. In many, many cases, it’s ourselves.
5. How many people/departments are involved in the final design decisions?
We’ve worked very hard to gain the trust of our colleagues at the League, so the amount of people involved in the final design decisions aren’t as big as you might think. In many cases it is one or two people making the call.
6. When is the next Super Bowl logo created every year?
The logo is developed 16 months before the game. For the first 44 Super Bowls a unique logo was created every year that attempted to include some aspect of the host city, whether it was color, or a cultural icon or known symbol. We constantly evaluate our brand and how it is represented and felt strongly that the Super Bowl needed a permanent identity. For Super Bowl XLV, we introduced a consistent design which focuses on the prize rather than the location. The Vince Lombardi trophy and roman numerals are the consistent design elements of the identity. In highlighting the host city, we knew the best way to do this would be through photography and graphic elements we create and offer in the style guide.
7. Do you have all the assets pre-designed and reserve spots to feature specific team logos, etc., as they progress?
We do. And this is most evident in the decor and signage in the host city. I don’t know if most people watching on tv see much of it, but we go beyond the logos and feature player and team imagery. For instance, when the teams arrived in New Orleans two days ago, they came face to face with images of themselves on billboards, the stadium and the moment they walk into their hotel. We believe this is is a special part of the Super Bowl experience for the teams.
In fact, a few years ago, we created an 80 ft. banner inside the League hotel that featured the kicker from one of the competing teams. He never saw it, but heard about it and asked to keep it. I have no idea what he was planning to do with it, but we were happy to give it to him.
We fully prepare the work for the final four teams. The files are ready to print as soon as the games end on Sunday of Conference Championships, and they start installing as printed materials are rolling off the presses on Monday. This only leaves us with a maximum of 6 days to get everything done. It’s the same approach that our apparel and product partners apply, and one of the most impressive aspects of how the city transforms almost overnight.
8. How many places does the official Super Bowl logo appear – ie. T-shirts, hats, and other premium items; football field, uniforms; etc.?
I don’t know the exact number, but it’s way up into the thousands. Our head of Quality Control reviews every Super Bowl product that goes to retail. It’s a daunting task because products start rolling in not long after we release the style guide to our partners and licensees. That means she is reviewing the Super Bowl logo almost every day of the year.
9. How do you decide on color? What font do you use? Why roman numerals?
Determining the color palette of Super Bowl is one of the most challenging aspects because we try to be unique each year. We also do our best to avoid it looking like our team’s color palettes. We take our cues from the photography we shoot in the host city.
We use two different versions of our font family called Endzone. One is a classic, strong, angled, slab serif and the other balances it out by being sleek, modern sans.
The roman numerals have been a part of Super Bowl tradition since the second one back in 1967. I hope we never have to break the tradition, even when it gets a little awkward…here’s to you Super Bowl L.
10. Do you have any advice for aspiring designers?
Working on the Super Bowl has taught me to constantly look at what we do through the eyes of the fan. Losing sight of this is easy because we keep the design goggles on and we care about how designers will appreciate our work and all the coolness buried in it. So my advice is to remind yourself not to overlook your target audience, and you’ll be successful when you constantly refine the simple clarity of what you are trying to communicate.
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