Designing in a world of tickers, stats and chrome

I have no evidence to support this, but sometimes I think TV sports graphics were born the day Batman first had a “boff” and a “kapow” bursting into viewers’ eyes in the 1960s. Like any other aspect of sports design (print to digital), TV tickers, stat sets and scoreboards have evolved – tremendously over the past decade – but a visual jolt remains. Wake up, fans, got stats for ya!

ESPN has dominated the 24-hour field for so long it’s worth stopping to assess things now that we have a new entrant, FOX Sports 1. The sports network launched last month and features college football, NASCAR, soccer and UFC so far. It also has its own newscast, FOX Sports Live, and a fresh design.

Michael Dolan, VP of Design for FOX Sports Graphics, offered some insight in a Q&A.

colorschemescroppedDolan’s career: University of Akron grad. SPEED Channel art director, then creative director for graphics department, now runs east coast office of FOX Sports Graphics.

Fox Sports 1 launch date: Aug. 17, 2013

Design preparation time: 8 months

Fox Sports 1 typography: The font is Antenna

Q. First, what is your graphics staff like, in terms of employees and duties. Is everyone in L.A. or Charlotte?

Dolan: The entire FOX Sports Graphics Dept. is made up of over 100 artists and producers. Of those, 24 including myself work out of the Charlotte, NC office. We have technologies in place to allow the LA and Charlotte offices to operate as if we are down the hall from each other.

Q. Let’s talk about launching a new network – knowing you have to generate an entire visual identity. Businessweek said FOX Sports 1 has to be “zigging when ESPN zags.” I imagine you admire a lot of what the rivals established, but had to pick places to innovate.

Dolan: We have a lot of respect for our competitors. A big part of our business and especially at FOX Sports is to always be innovative. We never rest.

bigboardcroppedQ. For instance, the wide graphics sidebar is a bold choice. I think I read one reviewer who said it made his 55-inch TV into a 42-incher. Of course, most sports fans these days have huge flat screens – there’s certainly room to play with layers of info. Those of us in the newspaper industry are familiar with the struggle to design layers of info into a news presentation.

Dolan: We feel like the wide side wing is a great compliment to sports news. Whether you’re in a crowded sports bar, at home, or running on a treadmill at the gym it makes it really easy to see and know what’s going on in the sports world. We also have a huge respect for the fans and the game so any time we air a live game we don’t use the side wing, and use a smaller profile ticker at the bottom of the screen.

Q. I’ll get design-nerdy: I see less of the chrome and metallic effects with the new graphics identity (compared to what seems an industry norm). First, thank you. Second, maybe a flatter style is the present?

cleatuscroppedDolan: You’re welcome, but don’t get me wrong we embrace and love us some chrome! After all, we do have robots! No matter what the product is, to design a brand that needs to compete you have to be different and better in all the right ways. So the look of the network was designed with that in mind – bright colors and bold typography.

Q. I also read about your staff using live 3D graphics. Explain that a bit – is it a new software or content management system?

Dolan: Zac Fields, who is the VP of Technology in our group, manages and helps spearhead a lot of these new innovations. His group is constantly pushing the envelope and trying new ideas. While we’re not the first ones to use virtual 3D graphics in a live studio show or game, we try and do things that are fun and different for our fans. For example last year we introduced Cleatus, our football bot, into our live NFL pregame studio show.

Q. For someone interested in getting into the field, what are the software programs to master? AfterEffects certainly, but should they explore more on their own?

Dolan: Become a great designer, software can be taught to just about anyone. Day to day we use what is pretty much the industry standards – Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, and Cinema 4D. We also design and create a lot of elements for our studio shows and games in Viz Artist.

Q. What do you look for in a hire? And looking at the biz, can someone expect a lot of “staff” positions in this field or is it dominated by freelance studios?

Dolan: My philosophy for hiring is kept to three simple things. Have a good sense of design and aesthetic, a positive attitude, and great work ethic. The majority of our designers across the entire group are staff, but we do hire outside design firms and freelancers especially if we’re in a time crunch to get something done.