/ 6 June 2014

Identity Sketches for Louisville City FC

Note: I’ve worked up a few identity designs for the new Louisville City FC soccer club. To explain how I got there, here’s some quick background.

Author’s note: Interested in more American soccer identity work? I’ve published pieces on several teams. Feel free to read on.

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San Jose Earthquakes

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New England Revolution

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New York City F.C.

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Columbus Crew

Thanks for reading!

Soccer continues to gain ground on the American sporting landscape in a manner almost unimaginable even a few years ago. Pro teams are being founded in cities where fans are banding together–before they even have a team to root for–and demonstrating the strength of their potential market. The success stories have gotten almost too frequent to count; the most recent is Louisville City FC, who announced that they’ll soon begin play in a lower-tier US league. This decision was based in no small part on the work of the passionate Louisville Coopers supporters’ group, who rallied soccer fans under colors, a logo and a frame of mind, and who are sure to support the new club well.

The thing is, once passionate fans are involved, their passion extends to every avenue of fandom. Good fans demand first-rate treatment–and why shouldn’t they get it, after paving the way for a potential team? Groups like the Coopers want a club who’s worthy of they way they put themselves out there; they want something worth rooting passionately for.

Design, of course, is often read as a shorthand for intention. (In the realm of sports, this usually a good instinct.) A club that takes the time to put forth good design work is judged to care about difference-making things like front-office competence and fan relations. Clubs who don’t–who slap together something off the shelf, or who neglect the issue altogether–are often perceived to be obtuse, out of the loop, or not good at the details that breed success.

All that is to say: Louisville City FC premiered their crest earlier this week. It was not, to be kind, a landmark piece of design work. It included odd shading, bulging backgrounds, un-cared-for typography, and perhaps worst of all, off-the-shelf, unmodified clip art.

(It should also be mentioned that the Coopers supporters’ group, whose founding and graphic identity predated LCFC’s, had long been rallying behind their own quite competent soccer crest-style logo. The bar had already been set; sadly, it was not met.)

What happened next is familiar to anyone who pays attention to the power of social media. Fans, including many Coopers members who would be expected to care about the team, buy its merchandise, and embrace its identity, were vocally negative. This quickly led to alternative designs being submitted for consideration, a hashtag, and pretty soon after, the club’s owner declaring that he would accept proposals for a new crest.

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The reaction was justifiable. But in all the tumult, it’s easy to miss one thing: there are good ideas buried in the logo nobody wanted to love. First of all, clip art aside, Louisville has a strong association with the fleur-de-lis symbol, which has appeared on its flag and civic marks for more than a century. It deserves to be there.

LogoThe longest-tenured flag of Louisville, Kentucky, featuring the fleur-de-lis.

And then, of course, the barrel. Louisville City attempted to show the wooden panels and metal hoops of a barrel on its crest, and though the execution was lacking, the idea was solid. Kentucky is bourbon country, of course, and Louisville is the proud world capital of bourbon whiskey. Bourbon is aged in barrels, and the barrel idea has a lot of good graphic traction among potential supporters. The Louisville Coopers themselves were named after real coopers, those who partake in the age-old profession of barrel-making; they also feature a barrel on their logo. Most of the subsequent community submissions did as well. It’s a good idea.

LogoThe trusty bourbon barrel.

Here’s where every crest idea, from LCFC’s to the community submissions, falls short for me. The barrel is a perfectly fine visual idea for a Louisville logo – recognizable, proportionate, and unique to the region. Unfortunately, though, a single barrel is a pretty stereotypical thing to design with. Either you need to use a same-y, clip-art-esque vector with slats and hoops, or you can try to make it a little more visually interesting, which invariably ends up making a fancy-looking barrel. Fancy just doesn’t work; I mean, it’s a barrel. It’s a pretty plain thing.

This left me with the kind of design problem I love to contemplate: how best to represent a barrel on a unique Louisville City FC crest? When I figured out the answer (after some sketching and some coffee; bourbon would have surely helped) I knew I wanted to flesh out the design for the club, just to see the idea to fruition.

So, what was that answer?

It hit me like a ton of, well, barrels, I guess. A single barrel isn’t evocative enough, and it’s hard to design with. It’s plain, and also a little lonely. Plus, you never see a bourbon barrel by itself; it’s always in a group, stacked up and aging in a distillery. Eureka; pass the Maker’s Mark. Barrels belonged together, not left alone in solitary! A group of barrels–like those on shelves, aging away to perfection in the secret bourbon-filled lairs of Louisville–was a perfect symbol for togetherness, teamwork, and community.

Plus, it looks really cool.

LogoBourbon barrels, doing their thing.

Shelves or racks of bourbon barrels made for an interesting starting point. From there, I used a version of the teams’ colors (more on that in a second), worked in a focal fleur-de-lis, and I had it.

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My version of a Louisville City FC crest. It’s strong, simple, and universally adaptable–yet still interesting. It’s also pretty dang unique, as soccer crests go. What went into it?

A roundel-style crest, easy to reproduce and echoing the shapes it contains.

A blue-ish/purple background, striking a compromise between the purple the club wants to use (for affiliation reasons) and the blue of the Coopers and of traditional civic symbols.

Three rows of golden barrels–the gold also a compromise between the shade LCFC had debuted and the more direct yellow used by supporters and the city. Why three golden yellow rows? To honor the three yellow fleur-de-lis symbols on the original city flag, itself adapted from one of the personal flags that George Rogers Clark (founding father of Louisville and American revolutionary) would fly as he rode into battle. 

Ten barrels in all (3-4-3), a number that works for a variety of reasons; no least of which is that when paired with the final piece…

A single white fleur-de-lis, it creates a crest containing 11 elements, the number of players on a soccer field. (Which player does the fleur-de-lis symbolize? Perhaps the club’s future captain could wear a fleur-de-lis armband on the pitch.)

• Finally, the crest is framed with the words “Louisville City FC“ atop and below.

Simple, traditional, but pretty fresh at the same time. Here are some cool things it can do.

Mono

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You can render this crest in one color if necessary – an absolute foundational element of good identity design. It looks bad-ass in one color, too.

Alternates

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Why not go brighter sometimes? Within this system, it can be done; here, using just two colors brightens up the look. Of course, when called for, a darker look can be useful too.

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The dark look is one of my favorites, because it really allows the fleur-de-lis element to pop. Also–this look helps you see a hidden element to the logo – a figure clutching and embracing the fleur-de-lis (Do you see it? His head is the middle barrel on the top row, and his arms are the two barrels on either side of the white fleur-de-lis.) This is an fun little easter egg and a great way to evoke Louisville City supporters’ love for their city and their team.

You can also get quite minimal with the logo; here, it’s stripped of its containing circle, again rendered in inverse mono colors, and it works perfectly. This version of the logo could pair well with a very colorful jersey, for instance.

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Finally, it’s very flexible. Here’s one simple example of extending the logo into new color spaces. As far as sporting allegiances go, Louisville is often depicted as divided into red and blue factions; this club should bring both them together. Perhaps, for a special occasion (like honoring existing Louisville and Kentucky fans) a special logo is in order?

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That’s just one of an infinite amount of approaches to adapting this particular identity.

Variations

You could also extend the mark by playing with its elements. Here, we have a slogan (“Welcome to bourbon country”) replacing the LCFC tagline, and flour-de-lis elements repeating for emphasis. This mark could symbolize fan support – the casks almost look like heads in a crowd. Next to that, the round barrels are rendered by themselves, containing the letters that spell Louisville.

LogoLogo

These are just playful ways to extend the brand; again, many more could be developed in time.

Apparel

What’s a mark without some apparel? First, a simple t-shirt.

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Pretty nice; I’d wear it. And of course, the crest is nothing if it doesn’t look good on a jersey.

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In Sum

Louisville City FC has its work cut out for it. It has fans who demand strong management, and it’s now in the public position of committing to good design.

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This exercise – like all of the design work I feature on this site – is fun and instructive for me to do. I hope the designer who ends up working with Louisville City has as much respect for the passion of American soccer supporters as I do, and has as much fun on the project as I did.

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Good luck, Coopers!

This piece was written and produced, and the marks within designed, by Mark Willis. For questions or comment, find Mark at (@M_Willis). If you like this design work, check out Clean Sheet Co., Mark’s apparel design company, and the 32 Nations Project, about designing expressive shirts for every single 2014 World Cup team. If you want to know a little more about Mark, check out the features at the top of the page, or check out his brief bio. Thanks for reading!