32 Nations: The Rules


Like any focused design project, 32 Nations will have some ground rules. Why? Two reasons:

Author’s note: This is part of a recurring series on designing beautiful graphic identities for the 32 Nations in 2014 World Cup. When you’re done here, feel free to read on:

Introducing: 32 Nations
The Rules
Group A Brazil, Croatia, Mexico, Cameroon Group B Spain, The Netherlands, Chile, Australia Group C Colombia, Greece, Côte d’Ivoire, Japan Group D Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy Group E Switzerland, Ecuador, France, Honduras Group F Argentina, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran, Nigeria Group G Germany, Portugal, Ghana, USA Group H Belgium, Algeria, Russia, Korea Republic Epilogue
All of the 32 Nations designs are available to order over at Clean Sheet Co., my apparel shop. We make shirts in batches, so pre-order now! All shirts ship later this winter.
Click here to see & order all 32 Nations shirts!

Finally, if you’re interested in discussing this article, getting updates, etc., you can find me at @m_willis on Twitter, or leave your email at the very bottom of this page. Thanks for reading!

First, it makes for better design. The essence of design is problem-solving: working within constraints and around obstactles is what creates worthy  work.

Second, Clean Sheet Co. is making and selling these shirts. Each design has to be one that can be beautifully brought to life in the real world - and each one has to feel like a Clean Sheet design.

(If you’ve been over to the Clean Sheet website, you know the style: bold colors, a limited pallete, sharp, crisp lines, and simple, straightforward visual messages. The idea is to break the soccer aesthetic down to its essence - to get to the root of how color and shape can mean so much to us as soccer fans. Clean Sheet’s logo, the shield-and-star, is in fact a universal representation of the soccer badge almost every team wears over the heart.)

So: we’re applying the Clean Sheet aesthetic to each of the 32 World Cup nations. What does this mean?

  1. Every design starts with a blank slate: the Clean Sheet shield over the heart, on a completely plain color field. This is the template every shirt will use, and the crest must be incorporated into the design.
  2. Each design is limited to four solid colors, maximum. (The shirt’s base color can act as a fifth.) Designs can use fewer colors, but four is the most. No gradients, photos, or splashy graphics; just solid blocks of color.
  3. The components of each design should have real meaning. They should evoke something (or a few things) about the country or team that’s being represented.
  4. I’m not trying to make “better” national team jerseys, or jerseys at all. I’m making casual, fun designs that capture the essence of rooting for a country. 

In the spirit of showing (not telling), let’s go through the exercise with one of the compelling countries we just missed out on seeing in Brazil: Iceland.

(Aside: To come within two goals of the World Cup when your entire country has a couple people fewer than Cleveland is a pretty notable acheivement.)

Like every design, we start with our Clean Sheet blank slate:


That’s the basic Clean Sheet template. Next, let’s start mixing in some Icelandic influence. Iceland’s flag is a typical Nordic cross, comprised of a dark blue field with white and red elements. The national team plays in blue and white, primarily. These two items give us a starting point.


We’re using a slightly de-saturated blue here, to match Iceland’s jersey tone. But what about the cross?  We should get that in there. In this case, we’ll try using the center of the crest (a natural focal point) as the place where the cross meets. 


Not bad - Iceland’s classic colors have us off to a promising start - but there are some issues to work through. First, the white crest clashes with the white stripes of the cross. Second, though the team playes in muted blue, the flag’s blue is actually somewhat darker. Time to revise:


Now we’re on the right track. We’ve isolated the red and white elements inside the shield shape itself, and introduced a darker blue to play along side the shirt’s base color. This gets us the flag and the national jersey in one unified design (and it’s starting to look kind of cool). We’re not all the way there yet, though: the star calls a bit too much attention to itself, sitting boldly in white above the red stripe; also, it might be nice to inject a bit more Icelandic “personality” into this design.

imageThe Iceland Shirt, ready for 2018.

There it is. We’ve added a cultural touch - a snowflake pattern often found in Icelandic embroidery - and played with the shape and color boundaries a bit to bring the idea to life. The star is also knocked back into negative space, so as not to draw attention away from the heart of the design, the point at the center of the shield.

And so we arrive at the finished product: a shirt that incorporates Icelandic symbolism (with elements of the flag), cultural significance (with the snowflake design), and soccer style (with a shirt that mirrors the colors of the national team).  It also ends up looking pretty great; even if you didn’t know anything about Iceland, soccer, or either one, you still might like to rock this with shirt a pair of jeans and some Sambas

That’s it; that’s what we’ll be doing for all 32 World Cup teams.  I won’t break down the design steps each time, but I will go into detail about each design’s origins and influences, and the thought process that got us to each shirt.

When Clean Sheet produces the shirts, they’re all made to the same high standards:

  1. Each shirt is composed of 100%, top-quality ring-spun combed cotton.
  2. Each shirt is made in America, sweatshop free, to the highest standard.
  3. Each shirt is inked, sewn and finished with care and love.

Clean Sheet takes a lot of pride in its work; if you decide to grab one of these babies, I think you’ll be very pleased.

One note: Clean Sheet makes shirts in big batches, and will be accepting pre-orders for a few weeks to see how many of each shirt to make. All shirts will ship later in the winter, in plenty of time for the World Cup. A fun wrinkle: if you want to pre-order as a holiday gift, Clean Sheet will send you a beautiful card you can give letting the recipient know that a shirt has their name on it.

imageclick to enlarge

(And Clean Sheet will work with you to ship wherever you like when the shirts are ready.)

There’s one final goal. My mark of success for this project will be if die-hard fans and casual (or even soccer-oblivious) folks alike enjoy these designs. To me, that’s what the World Cup is all about: a few weeks when soccer-inspired passion is something everybody wants to put on.

Enough talking: Group A drops on Friday, after the draw. See you then. Update: Group A (and the entire 32 Nations project) is now live. Get started here.

32 Nations is a joint project by M.Willis and Clean Sheet Co. about designing expressive shirts for every single 2014 World Cup team. Check back Friday (after the draw) for Group A. Questions, comments, etc.? I’m on Twitter at @m_willis. You can check out Clean Sheet Co. at cleansheet.co. If you want to know a little more about me, check out the features at the top of the page, or check out my brief bio. Thanks for reading!

  1. m-willis posted this