Cleveland Browns Branding
Our recent post, “New” Browns Logo Leaves Cleveland Graphic Designers Deflated” collected expert advice from local authorities on the matter including Chris Comella, Go Media Art Director, logo designer, brand expert and sports enthusiast.
Chris’s full interview is included below. Enjoy and be sure to catch the full story, featuring fellow experts William Beachy, Wilson Revehl, Todd Radom, Aaron Sechrist and Julia Briggs here.
Interview with Chris Comella
The new Cleveland Browns logo design has been harshly derided in some circles for being underwhelming or, as some have put it, “just oranger.” Do you think that kind of criticism is fair or unfair? If so, why?
The fact they called it a new logo, I feel, opened them up for a certain level of negative criticism. When you have a fan base like Cleveland, people are looking for literally anything to hone in on and either love or tear apart.
The team has stated the goals were to “honor tradition and provide a modern edge,” partially by incorporating a move from the traditional block lettering to a “cleaner, simpler, elegant” font and making the helmet “brighter and richer to match the passions of our fans.” Do you think those goals were accomplished?
Sure, having seen what we have so far, it would be fair to say the edits are working towards these goals. Now, do I think at the beginning of the project they wrote out, “Goal: Edit the orange so that it more closely represents the passion of our fans”? Absolutely not. I think the color changes were a product of the uniform tweaks we’ll be seeing shortly, they then translated it to the logo, and voila – “We have a new logo! Let’s tell the world.” Now, of course, when your team is known for not having a logo, people come to their own conclusions.
The Browns are currently the only NFL team whose primary logo is a helmet. Do you think there is value in that, or do you think there could have been a benefit to pushing beyond that “traditional” image?
I mean, you look at the helmet and it is undoubtedly boring. I think this idea of honoring and sticking with tradition by virtue of keeping what we’ve had for a long time, is kind of simplistic. I think the concept of tradition, as it relates to the Browns, has much, much more to explore than that. Though, I will say, this version here, I prefer 10x over the current primary logo.
In what ways do you think the team would have benefited from a more daring design change?
There’s the obvious marketing and sales-hype angle at work here, but this is how I tend to approach this question: A lot of people associate the current design with a long running feeling of mediocrity and lackluster performance on the field. “Why honor tradition and our past when our past is nothing to celebrate?”
That’s a valid question for sure, but before we even talk about what the design is and how it looks, the idea of changing our look without having ‘earned’ it in someway is always where I end up personally. I feel like addressing the identity should go hand in hand with the performance on the field, not in spite of it. Because, let’s face it, winning games is what it comes down to. Fans are looking for the optimism and excitement where they can find it. But if we blow up our identity now, and come next season we start hearing “Browns muster another losing season – But how about them new unis!”… I don’t want to make losing look good, I want to make winning look good… while at the same time patting the new school-football-look toting teams on the head and smirking.
Had the team gone for a more adventurous approach, what kind of elements could/should the designers have incorporated?
In our current sports world, where that stupid robot welcomes you back from every commercial, where the popular sports channel motifs can be described as ‘Iron Man’s nuclear reactor fortress’, and the teams are trying to look more and more like the X-Men, I’m in favor of our design speaking to the sport of football and how the character of Cleveland, Ohio uniquely contributes to it.
Is there anything about the new logo that “works”? If so, explain.
Honestly, this isn’t a new logo. It’s an updated logo. Again, if the Browns organization wants to honor a sense of tradition by virtue of keeping what we’ve had for a long time, then yes, this works. I think the concept of tradition, as it relates to a proper team logo, has more to explore than what we’ve seen.
What are your thoughts on the new Dawg Pound design?
The perception of the ‘Dawg Pound’ is pretty Chuckie Cheese in my world right now… It’s clear from a marketing standpoint they want to leverage the, ‘Hey we got a wacky section where you dress up!’ as some sort of unique identifier to Cleveland. To me, that doesn’t really float my boat in particular. Though I will say, seeing that dude shoving that Bengal brought it back to a place where an attitude was prevalent, not just costumes.
In terms of the dog illustration – I think it’s an update for update’s sake. It’s less functional than the previous incarnation, and the attitude / tone of dog caters to the family-friendly end of the spectrum. Goal of the client: Seemingly accomplished… Conveying from an authentic point of view what the Dawg Pound is about: Not so much.
That said, do you think this logo design change was ultimately the best decision for the team in this case?
There was no real decision made here… they updated the helmet to reflect the design of the new uniforms, which we’ve yet to see. In terms of the logo, I’m 100% neutral on what they did.
Is there anything you would have done differently if you had tackled this project?
I would love to spend some time figuring out what it is I’d do differently for the Browns, or how I would talk to them about design’s ability to accomplish their needs moving into the future. It seems most of the new design work we’re seeing in the sport leans towards the Oregons and Seahawks of the football world. I think that trend in looks presents a real opportunity to create an identity that sets itself apart, and convey a contemporary, yet classic view of the game of football. Shifting the perspective from ‘Traditional’ to ‘Classic’ is a small but powerful tweak. Traditional is a bit restrictive. Classic is rooted in the ideals of tradition, but not limited to what’s been done in the past.
New Cleveland Browns Logo Design
Our recent post, “New” Browns Logo Leaves Cleveland Graphic Designers Deflated” collected expert advice from local authorities on the matter including Aaron Sechrist, Graphic Artist and Owner of OkPants and Made by Superior.
Aaron’s full interview is included below. Enjoy and be sure to catch the full story, featuring fellow Cleveland Design Agency experts William Beachy, Wilson Revehl, Chris Comella, Todd Radom, and Julia Briggs here.
Interview with Aaron Sechrist
The new Cleveland Browns logo design has been harshly derided in some circles for being underwhelming or, as some have put it, “just oranger.” Do you think that kind of criticism is unfair?
Nope. I think the decision to build hype and create any kind of “event” around a pantone number shift is being fairly knocked. A lot of fans were expecting something exciting and new in regards to a logo in the context of this huge, publicized uniform re-design project that has been going on in the background with Nike for 2 years. It was a great opportunity to replace the helmet icon with a strong, exciting secondary mark that could get fans excited about our team. It’s confusing at best. I do, however, think brighter is better for orange, as I think darker is better for the brown. With that said, I’m VERY excited to see the new uniforms, as I think that brighter orange is going to really scream, especially with these space-age textures and materials Nike uses on their uniforms & helmets.
Is there anything about the new logo that “works”? If so, explain.
I’m assuming we’re talking about the helmet logo. I mean, they could have at least re-drawn or updated the vector drawing of the helmet. It’s just deflating and feels like an afterthought in the big picture of this massive uniform design project the team has been working on with Nike, which I’m excited to see the results of. I’ll admit it “works,” in the sense that the Browns are the only team in the league that does not have a logo, but as a logo designer I’ve always hated that. I’ve only ever seen that orange helmet as a missed opportunity to slap something AWESOME on. I have no idea how the “Dawg Pound” graphic is supposed to work within the overall team identity or the uniforms if at all. It’s all still pretty confusing to me.
Is there anything you would have done differently if you had tackled this project?
I’ve thought for years the team should completely rebrand—name, colors, everything, especially when the team returned to the city in 1999. I’ve been a Browns fan my entire life and I can’t ever remember a time I looked at the uniforms and helmets and thought ‘Boy those look cool’. So I suppose my answer is I would have done “everything” differently. I’ve always been an anarchist when it comes to the design of the Cleveland Browns.
Anything to add?
The Cleveland Browns look like Thanksgiving on the field. I own no Browns merchandise. But make no mistake, I LOVE the Cleveland Browns. They taught me at a very young age to persevere through disappointment, frustration and misery. I saw my first adult fistfight at a Browns game at age 8. When I was a kid my dad spray painted all of our family’s shoes orange when Webster Slaughter was getting fined for it. They are as intertwined into my life as art itself. I am a lifer fan.
The New Cleveland Browns Logo – Cleveland Designers & Brand Experts weigh in.
As anticipation swelled for the unveiling of the new Cleveland Browns logo two years in the works, buzz in the Cleveland graphic design community was especially palpable.
After all, love for the Browns runs deep in Northeast Ohio. Few cities in the league can boast more enthusiastic fans than those posted up in the raucous Dawg Pound.
In the Cleveland graphic design scene, there was optimism that a punchy rebranding effort would be a strong symbol reflecting fans’ passion, the new ownership’s dedication to a winning next chapter and the greater revitalization of Cleveland as a whole.
The Big Reveal
“A pantone shift.”
That’s just a sampling of the snide. The “new” logo remains a single, non-stylized orange helmet, albeit in a bit brighter in color. The tired typeface was scrapped for a cleaner font. A secondary logo for the Dawg Pound featured a snarling bulldog, which some described as more appropriate for Chuck-E-Cheese than the zealous fan base it represents.
“Both as a designer and a lifelong Cleveland Browns fan, I really expected more,” Go Media Vice President Wilson Revehl said. “A big change done right would have created big excitement. It would have given us a chance to shed the baggage of all the legacy problems the team has had over the last 35 years. This was a major let-down.”
Irreverence from outsiders is nothing new for Browns fans. Here, though, derision is being generated from within, and there is a general consensus among Ohio design professionals the ample criticism is fair.
Among Cleveland graphic designers and the branding experts at Go Media, the conclusion isn’t so much that the new logo is bad. Rather, it simply isn’t new. Or at least, it’s not different enough to have warranted the hype it generated.
“The team has been readying the fan base for a logo change for two years,” said Todd Radom of Todd Radom Design, an independent graphic designer who specializes in branding for professional sports franchises and events. “I have likened it to this scenario: It’s Christmas morning, and the Browns had a present for the fans. They gave them a gift card. Disappointing.”
Radom, who designed the previous “Dawg Pound” logo, is far from the only one who feels the buildup part of the problem.
Many local design professionals characterized the subtle shift as more of a “refresh” or an “update.” Terminology can set the tone for expectations, which is why designers say marketing language should always be chosen carefully. This is a good example of that.
‘A Missed Opportunity’
The team reportedly spent two years reviewing hundreds of iterations and tapped the aid of focus groups, the NFL and Nike to reach the final product.
“It was a great opportunity to replace the helmet icon with a strong, exciting secondary mark that could get fans excited about the team,” Sechrist said.
But those efforts fell short, he said.
“… I mean, could they have at least re-drew or updated the vector drawing of the helmet? It’s just deflating and feels like an afterthought.”
That plain orange helmet – the only helmet-as-logo in the league – has never been an inspired image.
“I’ve only ever seen that orange helmet as a missed opportunity to slap something awesome on,” Sechrist said. “…I’ve thought for years the team should have completely rebranded – name, colors, everything – especially when the team returned to the city in 1999. I’ve been a Browns fan my entire life, and I can’t ever remember a time I looked at the uniforms and helmets and thought, ‘Boy those look cool.’ ”
Historically, the team’s branding left much to be desired, evolving from “Brownie,” a cutesy, 1950s-era elf, to the bland, faded-orange helmet and chunky typeface. Not only did the latter seem uninteresting, designers found it tough to translate the detailed design more broadly into marketing material.
Many assumed the team would rebrand during the expansion back from Baltimore, but that didn’t happen.
Browns President Alec Scheiner told The Cleveland Plain Dealer the newest changes accomplished the goal of bringing more energy and vibrancy to the logo, while holding firm to the traditional facemask piece, which he contends displays grit and toughness.
“We may not look fancy, but we’re going to humbly show up to work every day and do our job,” Beachy said of the team’s identity. “Translation: We’re going to kick your ass and skip the post-touchdown celebration dances.”
“Unfortunately, though, when your team isn’t winning, a boring brand is just adding insult to injury. It’s not a badge of honor to be worn. It’s a mark of shame.”
Revehl, Go Media’s vice president, said there are times a subtle change can work well, but “I struggle to think of firms that have done a so-called rebranding as minimal as this.”
Radom, who has designed SuperBowl and All Star Game logos, was careful to say advertising for a sports team is a multi-layered, complex process. This one, he conceded, had to be tough.
“They are a team frozen in visual amber, with little opportunity to renew their look in a meaningful way,” he said. “Some teams can blow it up and start from scratch. The Browns cannot do that, which had to have made this a challenging assignment.”
Still, Chris Comella, Go Media’s art director, said the idea of honoring tradition by simply keeping what you’ve had for a long time is “Kind of simplistic. I think the concept of tradition, as it relates to the Browns, has much, much more to explore than that.”
“There comes a moment when you stop listening and call on experts to help make the right decision,” Briggs said. “There’s the quote by Henry Ford: ‘If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.’ I wonder how Henry Ford would have handled the logo change.”
The last two decades saw this city evolve from the epitome of Rust Belt rot to a hotbed of creativity. Schools like Virginia Marti College of Art and Design and the Cleveland Institute of Art have been instrumental in cultivating local talent. The number of graphics and web design firms in Cleveland has grown exponentially. The design team at Go Media has driven the momentum even further with its annual Weapons of Mass Creation Fest, an inspired summit of innovation from various disciplines.
Given all this, the Cleveland graphic design scene is not only an international presence, it’s an authority. There was every reason to expect a rebranding for the Browns, a team so central to this city’s identity, would be exceptional, especially as it marks the 30th anniversary of the Dawg Pound.
“Someone in this town had an opportunity in their hands to make a bigger impact, and couldn’t make it happen – again,” Briggs said. “I think that’s what this logo change represents to Clevelanders today.”
A Different Approach
If local designers had their hands on the project, how would they have tackled it differently?
Many agree bold would have been better.
“Football is entertainment,” Beachy, of Go Media, said. “If you’re going to be an effective entertainer over the long haul, you’ve got to embrace reinvention. You gotta make it fresh! In my opinion, this was an Ok step in the right direction, but certainly, I would have gone further with it and presented it with a little more glitz and glam.”
Comella, Go Media’s art director, said football teams today are increasingly searching for a contemporary image. Think Seattle Seahawks.
“Traditional is a bit too restrictive,” Comella said. “Classic is rooted in the ideals of tradition, but not limited to what’s been done in the past.”
Sechrist, asked what he would have done differently, answered in short: Everything.
He likened the players’ uniforms to “Thanksgiving on the field.”
Good news about that: The uniforms, too, are expected to be revamped, though the final design won’t be revealed until April. Beachy is eager to see the striping, the color of the pants, the material and whether any subtle patterns will be incorporated. He opines a thick helmet stripe could make an aggressive statement, noting the 2012 change The Ohio State Buckeyes had on their special uniforms, with extra-wide metallic striping.
“That’s a good example of how you can take boring and traditional and spice it up with color, material, texture and design,” Beachy said. “Even within the constraints of Cleveland’s traditional brand aesthetics, there is a lot of room to create bad-ass design.”
Sechrist agreed daring new uniforms could make the difference.
“Make no mistake: I love the Cleveland Browns,” he said. “They taught me at a very young age to persevere through disappointment, frustration and misery. I saw my first adult fistfight at a Browns game at age 8. When I was a kid, my dad spray-painted all of our family shoes orange when Webster Slaughter was getting fined for it. (The Browns) are as intertwined into my life as art itself. I’m a lifer fan.”
And maybe that’s part of what stings most for some Cleveland graphics artists: The idea that whoever was behind the change didn’t have that same kind of earnest emotional connection held tight by so many Clevelanders.
“There there was no reason for them to farm this out to an out-of-town design team,” Revehl said. “You have too many people right here in Cleveland who are not only phenomenal designers, but who would have been so passionate about a project like this.”
Beachy said if his team were tapped for the project, he would want to preview the designs on the athletes in full uniform, in dramatic lighting.
“At Go Media, we present our brand ideas in context,” he said. “Show me that logo on a flag, in the stadium, under the Monday night lights with the cheering crowd in the background.”
Bringing back an element of showmanship would have been key, he said. Yet perhaps the most considerable change Beachy would have implemented:
“I would have hired Go Media.”