Design experts mixed on logo, say time will tell

GRAND FORKS -- When the NHL announced the Jets were coming back to Winnipeg, Scott Telle was ecstatic.

As a fan before the team moved, he couldn't wait to see the team's logo unveiled. But when he saw it, Telle, the co-owner and creative director at Ad Monkeys in Grand Forks and a part-time instructor at the University of North Dakota, was underwhelmed.

"When they revealed what the artwork was, I had this feeling of: Really? It's that?" Telle said.

Many in Grand Forks and across the region had a similar reaction when UND revealed its Fighting Hawks logo Wednesday, with many taking to social media to express their displeasure with the artwork. In an unscientific poll on the Grand Forks Herald's website about the logo, 71 percent of the more than 6,500 respondents said they "don't like it at all."

Reviews of UND's logo by design and logo experts have varied, but most agree it's too soon to rush to judgement on it, considering the surrounding debate about the school's nickname.

In the 1930s, UND changed its nickname from the Flickertails to the Fighting Sioux. But the NCAA prohibited the use of Native American nicknames and imagery in 2005, putting UND at risk for sanctions. After years of debates, controversy, a lawsuit and statewide vote, the school retired the Fighting Hawks nickname in 2012, and UND began the process of finding a replacement moniker in September 2014.

Telle said the logo unveiled Wednesday wasn't what he expected. Telle and Ad Monkeys were one of the 16 design firms -- and the only one from North Dakota -- that applied to design the university's graphic identity. New York-based SME Inc. was eventually chosen and designed the logo for $49,500.

Telle said he understood where SME and UND were going with the logo, with what he described as forward-leaning, athletic, crisp, fresh logo, but its release caught him off guard initially.

"I don't know what I expected to see, but I didn't expect to see that," he said.

The hawk in the logo was more subtle than expected, Telle said. Many people were used to the prominent Sioux head image designed by Bennett Brien, so the hawk in the negative space was surprising.

"That doesn't mean that it's wrong," he said. "That just wasn't where my expectations were."

But most people are judging the school's rebrand on the one logo without taking into account the style, color pallet and things that are harder to conceptualize, Telle said, which is similar to judging a book by its cover.

"It's easier to look at an icon and get that, but when you start looking at the bigger picture things and the tone of it: Is it fierce? Is it fast? Is it soft? What is it? That comes from the overall brand establishment, and we haven't been introduced to that yet," he said.

The typeface stood out and was the most powerful part of the design, Telle said, and the subtleties there made that stand out.

James I. Bowie, a sociologist at Northern Arizona University, who is one of a handful of academic experts who studies sports logos, said he likes the logo much more than he likes the school's nickname.

The logo is clean, modern and uncluttered while avoiding the cliches a lot of college sports logos have nowadays, with some being either really aggressive or cartoonish, Bowie said. Many college sports logos try too hard to be intimidating, but the Fighting Hawks logo expresses intensity without going over the top, he said.

"It retains a sense of dignity to it," Bowie said. "I thought the old Sioux logo, regardless of what you thought about the nickname, was dignified. And I think this one is as well. It's able to be fierce-looking without being undignified."

When the school's nickname was announced in November, UND was one of a plethora of school's who had moved away from a Native American name to a bird name, but the Fighting Hawks logo should help the university stand out, Bowie said.

"It's a clean break from the past, which I think was necessary," Bowie said. "It expresses an identity that is simple that will be recognizable. In a few years, people will know that's the University of North Dakota. So I think it does what it needs to do as a logo."

Sports uniform expert Paul Lukas, who writes the Uni Watch blog for ESPN.com, said the Fighting Hawks logo fell somewhere in the middle among sports images.

"It's not bad," he said. "Do I think it's one of the all-time great logos? No. Do I think it's one of the all-time awful logos? Also no. I think it'll take time to see how it fits in the overall scene."

But Lukas, like many, said it's too early to judge the logo while the dispute about the university's namesake is still happening.

"I think with all of these situations where something has been there for a long time and is replaced by something for reasons of social justice or political reasons, it's obviously an extremely charged situation and an extremely tense situation," Lukas said. "It is difficult for everyone, I think, to assess a new design on its own terms, rather than assessing it within the context of the surrounding debate.

"In this case, I think we all need to take a little bit of time to take a deep breath to see how it actually looks and works and lives," he said. "I think given the surrounding debate, while it's understandable to want to have a rapid response, I think a more considered, drawn out response is probably a better response."

Years later, Telle said he feels differently about the Winnipeg Jets' logo than he did when it was first released before the 2011-12 hockey season. Today, he even has a Jets sticker on the back of his truck.

"In general, change is difficult for people, especially when it's drastic change, and this is drastic change," Telle said. "It's a major departure from where people's minds are regarding UND."


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