I have always been amazed at both the freakish passion with which Americans love their college sports and the economical, social and logistical complexity of its athletic governing body, the NCAA. Every layer of the operation matters. Which is why something as natural as a redesign can be turned into a big media crusade when one of the more than thirty conferences that make up the NCAA announces a redesign. The Pacific-10 Conference (Pac-10) is not just any conference, of course, it is one of the most successful, specifically in the sport that inspires the most freakazoid passion, football, counting perennial champions UCLA, Stanford and the University of Southern California among its ten teams. The Pac-10, however, has not been as successful as its East Coast counterparts in securing broadcast and sponsorship deals, in part because by the time a game starts on the West Coast, East Coasters are already watching The Daily Show. Storming New York City this month with press conferences, Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott introduced a new brand positioning crafted by New York-based SME Branding and the new identity designed by Portland, OR-based Mutt.
A quick sample of the branding report findings by SME:
SME’s report concluded that to its target audiences to the east and west, the Pac-10 needed to exude West Coast-cool. It needs to remind people that the Pac-10 footprint is home to innovators such as Google, Nike, Microsoft and Apple. It needs to remind people that the Pac-10 is home to some of the nation’s elite universities. It also needs to remind people that the Pac-10 wins — a lot. The league has claimed 388 NCAA titles, more than 150 more than the second-place Big Ten.
— Sports Illustrated
And on how to select a design firm:
Once Pac-10 officials understood their brand, they needed a symbol to capture it. They needed their own swoosh or Dallas Cowboys star.
So they contacted several companies and asked them to submit ideas. Mutt Industries, the Portland firm that has done work in recent years for Nike, Coca-Cola and Heineken, designed more than 100 possibilities within a week. Mutt executives Scott Cromer and Steve Luker and senior designer Damien Webb experimented with 3D shapes, with equations (a Pac-10 design was one possibility) and a variety of standard two-dimensional logo. Scott loved the passion with which Mutt’s team attacked the pitch, so he awarded the firm the contract in January.
— Sports Illustrated
So designers chose a mountain and wave, which symbolize not only the Pac-10’s geographic footprint but also its strength. Mountains can’t be moved, except maybe by waves. It didn’t hurt that mountains also provide the backdrop at Colorado and Utah, the conference’s two newest schools.
Another priority was a mark that could accommodate various hues so schools could customize the logo with their own color schemes. PAC had to pop off the logo, because Scott has ordered his staff to de-emphasize the use of the word “Pacific.” Last week, an assistant answered the phone in the conference office by saying “Pacific-10.”
The typeface also had to be adaptable because the conference’s name is about to change. […] When Colorado and Utah join, the league will be called the Pac-12.
— Sports Illustrated
One thing, after all this, is certain, the old logo had to go. The new logo is far from perfect but I will say upfront that it does have a good level of energy, dynamism and edginess that comes across really well as a whole. The details, however, are a little messy. The PAC lettering is on the right track but the way the “A” resolves against the mountain and wave on the lower right side makes it look clumsy. The wave feels far too big in contrast with the mountain, making the former look just like an odd arrow. The “10” looks like an addendum both in color and proportions (that 0 should not be a perfect circle, it contrasts too much with the more condensed shield) — we’ll have to wait a couple of years to see how they handle the 12 once the conference grows. And, actually, I prefer the un-shielded version a lot more, where the PAC10 reads more convincingly as a whole, although I would lower the crossbar of the “A” in that application. Overall, not a bad effort.
Mutt has some sketches of some of their 100 ideas on their blog.