Earlier this year the Cleveland Browns revealed their new logos, an event which was preceded by lots of excitement and followed by lots of head scratching. While we were lead to believe a “new logo” was on the way for the logo-less franchise, what was delivered was only a slight update to the classic stand-by helmet graphic featuring a brighter orange and a brown face mask. Classic Browns!
// 2015 Logos //
So, there will be no new noteworthy primary logo, but there are plenty of other identity changes to talk about. The new font blends modern and classic football elements together with hard angle block cuts and rounded edges. Neither stand out as being out of place and works well for the word marks. One color word marks are the norm now in the NFL, but Cleveland’s is a vast departure from the early 21st century marks by Mark Verlander (Falcons, Cardinals, Bengals, Texans) which were wide and appeared cut for “speed”. The Browns’ are heavy and tall, and feels appropriate for the Brown’s brand.
That’s not the case with the new Dawg Pound mascot, however. While executed well enough for what it is, what it is isn’t what it should be. Let’s recap what the Dawg Pound is all about.
It was started back in 1985 when the Browns defensive linemen took on the attitude of “dawgs” and compared QBs to cats. After a sack, the players would bark. The fans would adopt the term which probably fueled their love for the team (and hatred of the others) even more. the Dawg Pound section is famously known for throwing dog bones, batteries, and eggs at visiting teams. It was not a nice place to play for the opposition, and the franchise has tried to keep some of that spirit alive today by promoting the team as “Dawgs” and the term Dawg Pound itself.
What the Browns and/or Nike felt was best to represent this in 2015 is a puppy. A cute little ankle biter of a bulldog that you’d be more inclined to play tug of war with over a sock than be intimidated by. Again, I have nothing bad to say about the design execution, but the personality of the mark is totally off. For a game played by 300lbs men, modern gladiators, who try to physically dominate one another, they being are represented by a puppy.
The brown swatch (developed by Reebok) stays the same, but the new orange is brighter and more red. The Browns’ website claims it “matches the passion of our fans and the city”. (and that’s not even the worst of the copywriting in the release). That’s a bit of a stretch, but it is a more intense and energetic color.
With the move to this new orange and addition of the puppy mark, it’s clear to see the Browns have shifted their focus on a younger target audience, and let’s not forget the modern uniform design as well. The NFL as a whole is marketing for youth and at this point we can see its teams and Nike are on board with that as well. I believe it’s driven by a decline in football participation below the NCAA level and if the NFL can’t hook players by participating in a dangerous and potentially life threatening game, then it will hook them as customers and merchandise buyers - as soon as possible. The identities are no longer being designed to truly represent the city, team, game or players, but to make the younger audience want to buy things. This new brand positioning is key to understanding why this new identity is designed the way it is.
// 2015 Uniforms //
Nike’s current track record for NFL uniform design is pathetic. I’ll give them credit where they deserve it. The new colors for the Jaguars, Dolphins, and Seahawks are beautiful. The Vikings’ uniforms are for the most part tasteful and appealing. . . and that’s where I run out of compliments.
So anticipating the Browns’ uniform reveal, you have to hope for the best but expect a new level of worst. That said, I’ll say right away, the new Browns uniforms are not the worst in the NFL, and there are actually elements I like very much.
The helmet didn’t change much. Add the new orange shell and brown mask and from afar you would say nothing else changed. But, the finish is satin, which is to be expected these days, which always pairs well with the newer uniform fabrics. The stripe may have been adjusted to be a bit wider than before, and one thing is clear upon closer inspection - Nike can’t resist using texture whenever they can. Within the brown stripes is a carbon fiber pattern, a texture theme that carries over into other parts of the uniform.
Browns equipment manager Brad Melland had said the new jerseys fit tighter around the upper body. I’m not sure what adjustments Nike made, but they’re just alterations to the Elite 51 template. No NFL team has yet adopted Nike’s latest template, the Speed Machine, that Oregon, Ohio State, and a handful of others wear on the college level.
NFL jersey rules permit 1 alternate jersey to be worn twice a year and for Cleveland that will be the new orange option. The new jersey color is maybe the most exciting change for fans but there are far more details to take note of.
I was concerned the new orange and an emphasis of it would make the Browns look more like a college team than an NFL franchise and seeing the orange jersey and new orange pants does remind me of Bowling Green and Clemson. I could not anticipate the large word mark across the chest though. Nike has boasted about the design decision as unique to the NFL. That it is, but that doesn’t make it a good design decision. Because no other NFL team has such a large word mark above the numbers, it makes the element reflective of NCAA and High School uniforms. It makes the Browns new jersey scream “not an NFL team!”. This was not an opportunity to do something new for the NFL that works; the connotation is that it looks more at home on a field with Oklahoma or Texas A&M than in an NFL locker room.
The alternate stitching in the jerseys is interesting and almost likable. I’ve even done designs myself with numbers that had contrast stitching, so there’s something to it that I think can work well if done carefully. Doing contrast stitching like this throughout a whole football jersey is overkill though. Sorry Nike, it doesn't reflect “the craftsmanship of Cleveland”, it just highlights all those ugly seams that cross the jersey like a roadmap of Boston.
There are a couple of details I can say I like. I like the number treatment with a “top shadow” which was used on the uniforms long before. I even like the chain mail mesh that is used for the number fabric, which is a subtle texture that really adds some visual interest to the jersey without being too distracting. And the new number font is done really well, by far Nike’s best number font they have introduced to the NFL.
I think the new stripes that cross over onto the torso panel of the jersey and cut to reflect the new type is a great addition. It’s actually an improvement over the previous stripe design, which was a solution for a problem that has changed in modern times. Those stripes were designed to go around an actual sleeve, and the modern versions of them have become hacked and shoehorned into new jersey “sleeves” which leads to abominations like the Lions and Steelers have now.
Looking at the jerseys one at a time, i feel they each are OK on their own. If i can look past the bad word mark decision and ignore the contrast stitching, I would say they jerseys look really nice. The stripe is better and the choice of number color seems perfect. You dont see many color-on-color options and I’m pleased to see the brown jersey with orange numbers and the white with the new orange. each jersey’s numbers contrast well enough to read from the stands and look great.
But when you see them all together the contrast really jump out. Each number and word mark is a different color across the set. The stripe colors do the same and the white jersey is the only one where the Cleveland word mark is a different color than the number. (same goes for the name on back).
Besides the white not following the same word mark and number formula, it’s a contrast amongst the set that can either be loved or hated. I can’t say that it looks like a jersey is out of place or doesn't belong within the set, but it is a jarring sight to see them all together. It’s loud and brash. I think, for the target audience, they will be widely accepted.
Personally, I love the brown pants. Paired with the white jersey, it was one of my favorite uniforms of the previous design so i’m happy to see that option make a return. Of course you have to have a white option, and there is some history with the orange too, so throw them in. None of the colors seem too out of place. I don’t think having 9 different options for pants and jersey pairings is a good thing necessarily, it’s another thing that says “college team” to me, but at least the colors themselves do look nice.
The stripe down the leg is of traditional placement and seems to complete the design appropriately until you notice it runs into a BROWNS word mark that finishes the stripe pattern half way down the leg. It is at first a shock. Not the first time a word mark has been placed on pants in such a way but probably the first time it’s been done so prominently. At this point, I can’t make a decision on how well that works, but it’s not completely retarded like the Jaguars helmet, and maybe it will grow on me.
But taking the whole uniform in and seeing a sans logo helmet with the whole team name spelled out largely on the rest of the uniform just looks kind of comical. Maybe I don’t mind the jersey mark, and maybe the pants mark is actually kind of cool. But realizing the logo-less team has spelled out it’s name and thrown it at your face is kind of hard to not laugh at. The Browns have such a unique identity to start with. The colors, stripes, helmet, and now even the numbers really don’t require any other identifiers on the uniform to make it known who they are. I can’t help feeling the design is like telling a joke then explaining why it’s funny. “We’re the Browns. . . get it?”.
I wish there was something to say about the socks, but sadly they never seems to be a discussion within the design process anymore. They’re solid topped in either brown or orange. How boring.
From what Nike has said about the process and general direction they wanted to take the new design, you would believe they felt obligated to honor tradition of a football team that resides in a blue-collar, tough-as-nails city. They’d make you believe there were elements here that are sacred and untouchable. That couldn’t be further from the result. It is definitely an evolution, not a revolution, but everything on the uniform has been changed. They couldn’t even leave the helmet stripe alone and placed a pattern on it.
There are some elements that can last forever on the uniform, but the design as a whole is definitely not timeless. They replaced a timeless design that was only dated in ways where old elements no longer fit properly into modern templates (remember the jersey stripes) with a flash-in-the-pan, attention whore of a football uniform. Still, it’s hard not to like some of the flash.
It is hard to like everything here though, because it's not what an NFL uniform or identity has ever been. Not until Nike arrived a few years ago. It's not representative of the Browns as we have ever known them. It's so much closer to an NCAA identity and makes me dislike Nike and the NFL even more for altering the brands in these ways. I do not believe this is good for the NFL, certainly not for sports design, I do not believe it is authentic or moral branding, and Nike's copywriting and public explanations for design decisions makes me think they're doing a lot of things just because they can, then trying to justify the decisions afterwards by making up a bullshit story about it. Good design starts with ideas and concept, but it's not terrible to just be honest and say "we did it because it looks cool".
We have to remember why it is designed this way to fairly critique it. It is designed for attention. It is designed for sales to a young audience. It is not designed to honor the past or the city, that’s just a bonus if you can squeeze it in. So in that sense, this new uniform does what it was intended and that's how I have to critique it. There’s lots of options to play with in Madden, a new color jersey to buy, and it signifies they are indeed trying to be a modern team and carve a brighter future. Kids will love it.
It doesn’t matter how much I like or don’t like it. I have to look at the design decisions and if they meet the goals set for it. I have to look at the craftsmanship and execution across the entire set, and how this design may work 25 years from now. As for the grade I give them based on all the above, well, at least they’re not the worst looking team in the NFL.
Brandon Moore’s Uniform Grading Scale
A – Exceptional. Design that is unique to the school and/or perfectly captures their culture/brand. May be a traditional design, but no mistaking for competitors. Technical craftsmanship is without flaws.
B – Very Good. Design is appealing and appropriate. May be a template/colors that resembles competitor(s). Perhaps a slight miss on details and/or minor flaws in craftsmanship.
C – Passable. There are multiple issues that need to be addressed in the future, or have overlooked some details. Perhaps a bad branding move, but has a solid foundation with passable design decisions.
D –Poor. Poor design decisions, and/or poor craftsmanship in multiple areas. Will have to be redone, but there is something worth saving.
F – Fail. Poor design, and poor craftsmanship through out. No cohesiveness between multiple uniforms and/or pieces. Nothing worth using again.