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New Work: FIT Athletics

Pentagram partner DJ Stout and lead designer Barrett Fry in the Austin office have designed a new athletic identity for FIT in New York City. Yes, that’s right, an athletic identity. FIT, the Fashion Institute of Technology, is an internationally recognized college known for its exceptional curriculum in art, design, communications, business, and fashion, of course, but not for its sports teams. Over the years, however, FIT has developed a first-rate athletic program. The school fields 13 intercollegiate teams in such sports as volleyball, soccer, tennis, track and field, half-marathon, cross country, swimming and table tennis, plus a dance company. FIT competes against 520 other schools in Region XV of the National Junior College Athletic Association. Five of its teams finished in the Top 10 for the country. The college also boasts two individual national champions—one in high jump and another in women’s tennis. FIT athletes’ prowess was also recognized when the men’s swimming team and the women’s track and field team were named 2012 National Academic Teams of the year.

What the FIT Tigers didn’t have until now was a consistent, well-designed identity. Like a lot of schools, FIT had adopted a hodgepodge of clip-art tiger logos and generic typefaces, whatever the sports-supply vendors had in stock when the school ordered uniforms, so the look of their athletic teams was amateurish and forgettable at best.

Pentagram partner Michael Bierut and his team in New York have worked with FIT on a number of projects over the years, including the development of the college’s main institutional identity system, print collateral and a campus signage and wayfinding system that was installed over the summer. When Bierut got the call to do FIT’s athletic logo he enlisted the help of Stout and his team in Austin because of their experience designing collegiate identities. Stout and Bierut met with FIT last December and previewed a sampling of the Tiger’s previous athletic gear and uniforms. “When I saw their old uniforms it dawned on me that this was a great opportunity to create something really unique,” says Stout. “The FIT uniform was the perfect cross-pollination of sports, design and fashion. That kind of project doesn’t come along very often.”

With the assistance of Carol Leven, FIT’s assistant vice president for communications, Stout assembled a rebranding committee consisting of graphic design students, student athletes and coaches who became his sounding board during the project. “Most of the student athletes wanted their new identity to look very collegiate,” says Stout. “We spent a lot of time at the beginning of the process trying to figure out what ‘very collegiate’ actually means.” Stout and his team developed several preliminary directions for the Tiger logo to determine which road the committee wanted to take. “Like a lot of design projects I’ve worked on over the years, there was a line that we had to keep dancing back and forth across,” says Stout. “Some of our early designs were deemed too collegiate looking by the group and some of them were too ‘designy’ and not collegiate enough. It was an interesting process and having the students and coaches involved was invaluable.”

In the end Stout and Fry came up with an icon of a full-bodied, pouncing tiger that can be positioned over FIT’s academic emblem, which was originally designed in 2001 by Bierut and his team in New York. The academic logo is a simple circle with the letters FIT in all caps. “The tiger looks like he’s jumping over the FIT ball, like a big cat in the circus,” says Stout. “I like the way the athletic logo ties into the academic identity system which had already been established by the New York office.”

The new identity uses the same typeface as the academic identity, Bureau Grotesque, but the word “athletics” and the names of the different sports teams the college sponsors are set in all caps. The athletic identity system and the uniforms were given their own distinct palette of colors as well. “The athletic logo is made up of a very graphic, almost pop-art, tiger stripe pattern,” says Stout. “And as you know, animal prints never seem to go out of fashion. I think we were able to successfully straddle that line between ‘collegiate looking’ and designy.”

Project Team: DJ Stout, partner-in-charge and designer; Barrett Fry, designer.