I attended Bethesda Christian School from 1st grade through high school graduation. I made some excellent friends, many I have to this day, and my mother has been a standout elementary educator there for close to two decades. I was approached by BCS to help design a mascot costume for the school. Bethesda's nickname is "Ambassadors," which perfectly captures the mission of the school but is something less than inspirational for a sideline character at basketball games.
Note: Sometimes the words "mascot" and "nickname" are used interchangeably, but they are really two different things. A mascot is the costumed character or animal roaming the sidelines at sporting events, like Reveille at Texas A&M. A nickname is what you call the sports team or fan base, e.g. the Aggies.
It was evident early on that the entire Bethesda visual identity needed evaluation. The school has a strong reputation in its circles, but has experienced difficulty with visual consistency during its 30 year run as one of the best private schools in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. As of this time last year BCS was employing around a dozen images, icons, pictures, and logotypes to make up the visual brand of the school, for both athletics and academics.
Adding a costumed character on the sidelines would simply convolute an already confused system. I took it upon myself to unify the entire athletic identity, and redesign the academic identity in concert. But we had to start at the top...
Note: This is a large project with many moving parts. The length of this post reflects the careful thinking behind this detailed and robust solution.
Bethesda had recently adopted a new icon for use on promotional materials: a lion's head with continents in it. It was probably the best-designed logo Bethesda has ever had, as the seal they utilized for over two decades was a clip-art contraption made on a whim by a t-shirt guy for an early school event.
The lion's head was inspired by an equally inspiring painting in the school's hallways, and its appearance in the school's marketing materials birthed waves of "Are we changing our nickname to the lions?" and "Why don't we have that on our jerseys and t-shirts?"
These were also my first questions to Bethesda, and after prolonged conversations with the leadership, it was decided that Ambassador was to endure and, in-spite of hundreds of newly minted promotional folders, lion's head logo and it's colorful character shield would not be long for this world.
Old Academic Logos
At this point I would like to make a quick distinction between the "academic" and the "athletic" brands. It is expected for an educational institution to have a seal or logo that is used on academic or professional materials, and a separate logo that is used on uniforms and fan gear, and sometimes marketing materials.
As student-athletes at BCS, we were often asked by other teams what an ambassador was. They were not asking literally, they just wanted to know why it was our nickname. We didn't have a good (read: short) answer, and it was a little frustrating as a student not having a visual representation as a mascot.
As you can see below, Bethesda's athletic brand elements were as confused as their academic logos. Most uniforms are simple enough, just school colors with the name, but there existed troubling spots, such as baseball and softball caps, one year sporting a "B" and the next year "A's" and the next "BCS."
Old Athletic Logos
The top images you see here were ripped straight from the Oakland Athletics and the Duquesne Dukes, and while it's not uncommon for high schools and junior clubs to borrow logos from pro teams, these were not in wide use, nor do they convey "Ambassador."
During the school's early years, the color scheme was white and royal blue. Gold was later added. Gold is an especially troublesome color for any organization, but especially so for a school. Schools have uniforms, apparel, printwork, marketing materials, websites and vehicles, and displaying a consistent shade of gold on all these surfaces becomes very tedious.
During my time at BCS I wore old gold, vegas gold, lemon yellow, mustard, beige, and classic yellow, all of which were supposed to be the BCS "gold." Unfortunately, I do not have pictures of all these shades.
Only a handful of academic institutions have done this color well, and the key is establishing which "gold" you want to use. The University of Minnesota is a great example of effective gold selection, the Golden Gophers always sporting the same shade:
As you can see in the earlier BCS team photo, black was also added to certain team uniforms. Black is not a BCS school color, and so this decision came as a surprise to the leadership of the school. Uniform ordering decisions were left to individual coaches at that time.
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The goal of this project was unification of the entire Bethesda brand: ensuring the academic elements and the athletic elements worked together and helped convey the Ambassador concept. But, as with all schools (small, private schools especially) the primary consideration through the process was budget...
What good is selecting unique colors, designing custom typefaces and making gradient-heavy, detailed illustrations if the client cannot afford to implement them? Team uniforms at a school like BCS are purchased from catalogs, not custom stitched and printed to match specific Pantone values. Neither are the jersey typefaces. School stationery and letterhead is not gold foil stamped and embossed, and t-shirts for students get two colors at best.
Design might be king, but budget is queen.
Although it felt like putting the cart before the horse, a handful of budget-based decisions could effectively be made at the beginning (before pen touched paper) which would allow me to design a system that required no watering down when the rubber hit the road, so to speak. Some guidelines:
- The school colors have to be available from the uniform supplier: Nike. Nike has four blues available, two yellows and one "vegas gold." We selected Nike Royal Blue and Nike Team Gold, which is really a bold yellow color similar to what the school had been using on uniforms when it could find it. We also removed the recently acquired black from the color scheme:one less moving part.
- The school typefaces must be available from the uniform supplier. The font that is most widely available across different sports uniforms is a college block font in the "Vertical Arch" configuration.
- The school logos must be primarily successful in one color. Much of BCS's recognition outside of campus has come from apparel, team uniforms and other merchandise, not the web. This means no gradients or use of color values in the logo execution, as well as bold, strong linework.
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These decisions gave me some clear parameters before I even got started, but the primary question hadn't even been addressed. How do we visually convey ambassador? We needed a clear symbol representing the concept.
At various points in the past, including my time in high school, BCS had briefly played with a medieval character: a knight with a sword and shield. After much deliberation and multiple attempts to adopt a knight as the visual representation for the ambassadors, the concept was passed over for a few reasons:
1). The military nature of the character is not in sync with the mission of the school and their understanding of what it means to be an ambassador.
2). BCS wanted a visual identity that was unique amongst its peers. This is something an armored warrior does not provide, as Bethesda's competitive landscape is overcrowded with knights and warriors, saints and crusaders.*
What symbolizes the heart of an ambassador, and is as utterly unique in the high school design landscape as the nickname ambassador itself? The answer was already in the school's alma mater... "the torch of truth shines forevermore."
Now the students can easily answer the question "What's an ambassador?" simply: a torchbearer.
And honestly, the torch is a pretty awesome icon. It is very common in academic circles, but never seen in the world of athletics (outside of the Olympics). It is the perfect one-two punch: the torch positions the school as the college-prep institution it is by visually equating BCS with institutions of higher learning and it distinguishes the athletic department from all competition with an icon that is entirely unique.
A torch it is.
Although the origin of Bethesda's brightly-colored seal was dubious, it was highly symbolic to the staff and students and had become beloved over the decades. Rather than turning our backs on everything Bethesda had built to date, we elected to keep the shield as an integral part of the new logo system, both for academics and athletics. Time to sketch...
I wanted to keep the academic identity and athletic identity linked, but with different styles as suited to their purposes.
The logotype in current use had Bethesda Christian as the primary text, with School as the subtitle. We reversed it, going back to the original seal, with Bethesda as the headline, and Christian School as the subhead.
The athletic look was a little different. You can see below that I began sketching before the "no-custom typeface" conclusion came into play. A custom typeface would only be able to show itself on the website and spiritwear, but not where the game is really going on: on the court.
The New Bethesda Brand
After much consideration (and probably too much throat clearing) I present to you the new visual identity for Bethesda Christian School.
New Academic Logo
I used Adobe Caslon Pro (I tweaked it slightly for the Bethesda title), a typeface the school would already have access to, so they could use it to their own ends when necessary.
Academic Logo Color Variants
The athletic system was a different beast altogether. Selecting a typeface from the Nike catalog and streamlining it into a standalone mark was the simple part. The linchpin of this athletic identity is the bold treatment of the same torch-in-shield.
New Athletic Logos
Athletic Logo Variants
A nice source of financial support for the athletic department is apparel, or "Spirit Wear." The single-color nature of the new designs allows for inexpensive but elegant printing.
New Bethesda Spirit Wear
New Bethesda Athletic Spirit Wear
The boys basketball team won state a few years ago, which has helped put the school on the athletic map. The championship team did so in black uniforms, which is a big no-no in the new system, but the coaches will not be making large design decisions from now on. The new design allows for classic jersey designs, without custom elements, that feature all-white home jerseys, blue aways, and yellow alternates.
The type treatment on the logo is now consistent with the font Bethesda uses from their uniform manufacturer.
New Bethesda Uniform Designs
The mascots, although originally the first thing assigned, ended up being the last element designed. However, we settled on something pretty awesome.
Our torchbearers became "Olympic Superheroes" of sorts. On their costumes you will see round discs instead of shield shapes, because we abandoned the shield in favor of a globe at the end of the project.
Each character would have a breastplate with their costume; one character bearing a torch, and the other a shield, which could be joined together.
Although the content of this post is more than enough to fill a case study, I elected to write it in blog format for a few reasons.
As this work neared its completion certain events altered the nature of the project so significantly that an entirely new system would need to be created from scratch. The church that governs BCS began an extensive identity redesign project about half-way through ours, and wanted to fold the school into it, nullifying our work. Also, some significant staff changes took place that affected the trajectory of the athletic designs.
I did not participate in the new project, however, I believe the thought processes behind the project merits discussion.
Although I am disappointed my work was not used, I hope the logic behind the designs helped fuel the school's pursuit. Here are the new logos Bethesda has officially adopted:
*Note: Bethesda has since reversed this stance, and chosen a helmeted knight as its primary athletic logo.