Design for Fighting Hawks logo discussed

GRAND FORKS, N.D.--Bennett Brien said he would love a chance to design a new logo to accompany the University of North Dakota's new Fighting Hawks nickname because, as the artist who created the old Fighting Sioux logo, he would work some of the ...

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Graphic by Carli Greninger/Grand Forks Herald.

GRAND FORKS, N.D.-Bennett Brien said he would love a chance to design a new logo to accompany the University of North Dakota's new Fighting Hawks nickname because, as the artist who created the old Fighting Sioux logo, he would work some of the old, popular logo into a new one.

"It would be like the Fighting Sioux transformed into a Fighting Hawk," he said.

Brien created the Fighting Sioux logo as a piece of art for the UND Alumni Association and Foundation in 1999. It was then given to the university and remains widely used as the image of the Fighting Sioux to this day.

But Brien laughed when he said he had no idea at the time how famous his artwork would become.

"What the heck, I didn't have a clue what the hell I was doing but I loved symbolism, especially good symbolism," he said.


Brien selected the colors and design purposefully. Green symbolizes the earth, white means purity and respect and the feathers adorning the fierce-looking Native American's face stands for bravery.

UND announced Saturday its plan to find a contractor to design a logo for its newly chosen nickname and expects to choose a designer by early February. Whoever gets the job will have to balance creative vision with the need to market a symbol to UND's fans, students and alumni.

Sauman Chu has been teaching design at the University of Minnesota for 20 years. She said the difference between art and design is that a designer always has the audience in mind.

"Design is more objective in a way because we always consider the audience and how people will react to your product, and art is more subjective because it's a more personal expression of who you are," she said.

Chu said the audience is one of several factors that will be key as UND moves forward with logo development to accompany the new Fighting Hawks nickname, announced in November.

Fighting Hawks is the result of more than a year of work by two committees, more than 1,000 public submissions and several online votes. UND's former moniker, the Fighting Sioux, was retired in 2012 after the NCAA threatened sanctions. The school has played as UND or North Dakota with an interlocking "ND" logo in the interim.

The interlocking "ND" will be used with the Fighting Hawks nickname until a final logo is approved. The contractor chosen to design the logo will have the spring to work with a committee, which will forward recommendations to the president for final approval, according to a request for proposal filed Saturday. Officials said they hope to have a logo finalized in the summer for official introduction the following fall.

While design firms operate under best practices, Brien maintained UND's athletic logo is an exception to the rule and thinks those attached to the old name would be more receptive to a new logo if he created it.


"Anybody else they get, they aren't going to have a clue what's involved, what the meanings are and what people really felt," he said.

Creative Director and Partner Mark Huesman of Absolute Marketing Group in Fargo said his firm employs several UND graduates and is interested in applying for the job, despite knowing how big of an undertaking it is.

"All eyes are going to be on this logo," he said.

What's in a logo?

Animals, including numerous variations of hawks, are a common theme among NCAA athletic nicknames. While UND's new nickname is the only hawk in the Big Sky Conference, the Iowa Hawkeyes play under a sharp yellow and black logo, Miami University uses an angry red bird as the Redhawks, and the University of Tennessee at Martin Skyhawks use a forward-facing blue and orange bird wearing aviator goggles.

Chu teaches courses on visual identity, symbols and interactive design and said a good logo is easily identifiable but factors such as how small it can be reduced, color choice and abstraction level should also be in the mind of the designer.

"Take the Nike swoosh," she said. "It's really abstract, but it basically symbolizes strength and speed. When you see an image you look at it and say 'What is this image trying to tell me?' That's our nature. We try to find meaning."

Chu said athletic logos tend to show movement to the right because of the way people read English, and that Fighting Hawks provides a great logo opportunity because things like strength and spirit are already associated with the animal.


"I think there's a lot they can play around with there," she said.

Chu acknowledged that once an identity is established it can be very hard to change, pointing to rebranding attempts that took place at J.C. Penney Co. in recent years and the Gap logo introduced in 2010 that lasted for all of one week after public outcry.

Chu's solution was introducing a new logo and rebranding effort slowly over time, though she said it would be difficult in an age when people can react to changes within seconds on the Internet.

"There are a lot of options but you have to make sure you do it right, be inclusive, and be transparent," she said.

UND spokesman Peter Johnson said the overall branding and marketing of a logo will be important along with having one that can be used in numerous forms ranging from television to merchandise, noting that Brien's own design had to be tweaked in order to be used as a logo.

But Brien said regardless of design, he thinks fans won't accept a logo from a professional firm with no emotional connection to UND because it won't have the same sense of symbolism the Fighting Sioux image does.

"It's got to be more than a bunch of strangers coming up with something cool-looking," Brien said. "I could come up with something too if you gave me the time, and something from the old one would be included. Nobody else could do that."

Experience or passion?

Some have been vocal on social media and on editorial pages that the Fighting Hawks logo should be crowdsourced instead of paying a firm.

Brady Edwards wrote that UND has many talented alumni who could create a design, and an editorial pointed out there are many logos circulating on social media despite the university not soliciting ideas.

One of them was created by Jake Caufield, a UND alumnus who played on the football team and got a degree in business with a minor in graphic design.

Caufield said he originally favored Roughriders as a nickname when it was still in the running, but changed his mind and created a left-facing green bird logo with wings that form the shape of a "U."

"Not everybody is a designer, so I wanted to put my visualization or concept out there to excite other people who were maybe undecided," he said.

Caufield said he understands why his alma mater would want an experienced firm to take care of branding and marketing, but he is disappointed UND appears to be shutting out the graduates of its own design program. He is also worried a marketing firm with no emotional ties to the school will base logo design off of best practices and studies and produce something generic.

"They're going to sell them on a bullcrap idea like that instead of keeping it organic," Caufield said.

Huesman said if he were to design the Fighting Hawks logo the research involved would take weeks to ensure the logo was unique without being trendy. Huesman said input from groups such as alumni and students would be important but that the campus community would also need to trust those chosen to represent them in logo development.

"No matter what you're going to do, if it's us or somebody else or a crowdsourced situation, the logo presented is going to be up for scrutiny, and UND is going to have to be ready to say love it or leave it," he said. "To have a successful brand launch you really need to have someone who knows what they're doing."

Lawrence and Schiller, a design and marketing firm in Sioux Falls, S.D., has design experience with higher education. The firm redesigned the University of South Dakota logo in 2011 and the Augustana University logo in 2008.

Senior Vice President of Design Dan Edmonds said athletic logos are different because people are generally very passionate about them.

His firm does an audit of area teams as well as the ones the school would compete against to make sure any new logo design wouldn't be duplicative. Anything after that would be an extended conversation among designers and the school to figure out definite dislikes or likes.
"UND has a really unique situation in that they're sort of starting over with a brand new name, which gives them all sorts of leeway to invent a mark," Edmonds said.

Dan Haan, another executive with the firm, said the idea is to get something that has group appeal while acknowledging a new logo isn't going to please everyone.

"You need the administrators, chancellor and president to have buy-in," Edmonds said. "You have to have enough people behind it to deflect any resistance."

Design on a dollar

UND representatives have said one group of people will select a design firm through the request-for-proposals process while another will work with those designers to help them create the logo. UND spokesman Johnson said in November that the University and Public Relations Department and other divisions that would typically be associated with the nickname, such as athletics, had been asked by UND President Robert Kelley to help decide the size and makeup of those two committees.

UND legal counsel has already filed a federal trademark application for the Fighting Hawks name and will file to protect the logo once one is created.

When the new nickname was announced, UND Vice President for University and Public Affairs Susan Walton said no dollar figure had been tied to logo development but the university would spend wisely. Johnson later told the Herald there had not been conversations about capping spending because they wanted to "do it right."

As of late November, $276,433 had been spent on picking the Fighting Hawks nickname.

Huesman said he saw ethical issues with having a logo design contest because, even if the university paid a designer, there was no way to tell how much money the logo would eventually make the university.

UND sells all of its marks for merchandise, with the school making about $3.2 million since 2006.

"There are legal ramifications and moral ones too because of the money being exchanged," Huesman said. "Every T-shirt sweatshirt and can koozie--they're going to make a nickel on that, and how come the person who designed that isn't making any money?"

But more than a decade ago, Brien sold the rights to his Fighting Sioux logo, and Caufield said while he would want to be paid reasonably for his work, he wasn't in it to make money.

"I'm willing to bet any former design alum would jump at the chance," Caufield said.

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