By Rich Jensen
The Brooklyn Nets logo has been unleashed on us, and judging by the response, it’s not a widely appreciated example of the designer’s craft.
Conceptually, it’s a good idea. A black and white color scheme would indeed be rather distinctive in the NBA (at present only the Spurs use a predominantly black/white scheme), and the logos themselves have a certain establishmenty feel to them that tries to make the Nets seem as antique as the Knickerbockers.
There are, however, two primary problems with the logo. They are problems that most of us can see subconsciously, but which we struggle to express in terms other than ‘bland,’ ‘boring,’ and the like.
Essentially, the Nets haven’t gone retro enough on the fonts, and have gone too retro on the simplified color scheme. The result is a logo that is neither decisively retro, nor is it recognizably modern. It’s just … bland.
The first failure is the choice of fonts.
The press release says that the logo was intended to pay homage to transit signage. The problem is they’re not using the right font to evoke the signage used on New York subways and buses from the mid 20th century. This signage has suddenly become rather chic, and is a popular decorative item for those who wish to live fabulously expensive lives in fabulously expensive austerity, decorated with fabulously expensive castoffs.
And while it may sound like splitting hairs, rest assured that all of us have seen enough of the same things to have certain subconscious cues that trigger associations to roughly the same time and place, and if those cues aren’t there, the connection doesn’t register. If the cues are vague, the connection is vague. Whether we know it or not, we have certain ideas of what old fonts should look like.
The font that the Nets are using attempts to look older, but fails in a number of details. I don’t want to bore you with them, but I have provided a period and usage appropriate font farther down. It will immediately appear more appropriate than the one the Nets went with. The rather optimistically named “shield of Brooklyn” is also the wrong shape for shields as used in the 50s and 60s.
Then there’s the color scheme. Black and white isn’t retro, it’s thoroughly modern. A quick glance at SI archives from the 50s and 60s makes several things clear:
People used to smoke at basketball games. A lot. Lighting wasn’t very good at those old arenas. Basketball uniforms have long been colorful. Take this ghastly exercise worn by Oscar Robertson in the mid 60s.
So going with a black and white color scheme as a throw-back notion suggests that the designers and decision makers are getting all their history from black and white photographs, and may even believe that color wasn’t invented until sometime in the late 60s.
But, going black and white isn’t necessarily a mistake. You can make it work, if you understand that we now expect logos to appear three dimensional or at least multicolored. A classic example of this transition to dimensionality is the American Express logo, and with color, the Boston Celtics logo.
A third accent color would bring the black and white into sharper relief. Opting to, say, color the ball a natural orange (as in the Celtics logo) would make the black and white of the logo look more like a conscious choice and less like the product of an old laser printer. Alternatively, shades of gray and silver could be used to provide a dimensional character to the logo as in the American Express logo.
What I’ve done below is rework the logo concept with truly retro graphics and fonts (bearing in mind that these logos would have been designed for much less sophisticated printing equipment, had they been designed fifty or sixty years ago). I’ve also provided a sample with a naturally colored basketball. I haven’t invested the time in producing a dimensional variant because, well, I’m not under contract with Jay-Z.
About the author: Jensen is proficient in computer-type stuff and sports analysis. But, until now, we had no idea he was so into design and fonts and such. What’s next – organic chemistry? We’re glad he’s on our side.