Design Case Study:
University of Oregon Ducks Football Uniforms
The Oregon Ducks, #2 ranked college football team and participant in the 2010 BCS bowl is well-known for the unique uniforms. Called outlandish by some and innovative by others, they are definitely out of the ordinary. From diamond plate patterns, to neon yellow sock and shoes, the designers at Nike Corporation really mix it up when putting together the looks.
I believe that design can make a tangible impact in all facets of life, even on the football field. My theory is that the Oregon Ducks have risen to fame and success in part because of their uniform designs and I want to outline some of the facts to look at whether this may or may not be true.
First, let’s take a look at the ‘classic’ uniforms:
According to Wikipedia the Ducks had pretty traditional uniforms prior to 1998 when Nike Corporation designed new looks. The Aloha Bowl of 1998 was when the “O” logo was first seen and the other design changes followed.
By the 2005 season the Ducks could throw 9 possible uniform combinations at you, unheard of in traditional football where teams would have one set for home and one set for away with a 2 combination set up. Fast forward to 2010 and the team has a whopping 384 combinations, 512 if you count their “special” bowl gear. An example would be the helmet from the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl.
Some of the highlights of their designs over the years have been a diamond plate pattern on the shoulders, wings on the shoulders, matte black and stark white uniforms, as well as some ‘day glo’ highlighter colored. And don’t forget the carbon fiber helmets!
Now that we’ve talked about form, let’s talk about function.
These uniforms are 28% lighter dry and 34% dryer when wet. They are also more durable because of a diamond plate pattern in the seams. There isn’t any explaining that needs to be done here lighter equals faster and results in less fatigue. This is a huge advantage over traditional uniforms.
THE DIAMOND PLATE DESIGN
The advantages of the diamond plate pattern on the shoulder pads are purely psychosomatic. Like most design, it affects the emotional / psychology side of people. Diamond plate is a lightweight steel or aluminum made for durable exteriors and to aid in traction. A lot of important metaphors right off the bat about the characteristics of the design. Lastly, if you’ve ever fallen on diamond plate or heaven forbid hit by it….well it’s not good. This is why the approximate tenth of a second that is lost when an opponent’s brain processes the risk of being struck by it is so valuable. This effect is also why the constant uniform change is important. It is the element of surprise….the art of confusion…it’s effective.
The font, Bellotti Bold (named after the incoming coach, Mike Bellotti in 1995) is used on the Duck’s uniforms. Called, gaudy and futuristic by some it is definitely a departure from the traditional athletic font look. So, why did they do it? The first, obvious choice is because it’s more modern and ‘sleek’. I would like to draw attention to the narrowing base vs the wider caps of the fonts. This effect creates an implied line that ultimlately thins the waste and broadens the shoulder of the athlete. Anyone who’s ever contemplated ‘vertical vs horizontal’ stripes should be aware of this phenomenon and design principle. Again this small, barely noticeable feature adds to the overall affect these uniforms have on their opponents perceptions.
The wings are appropriate first and foremost as Coach Chip Kelly has stated, “…wants to be known as the fastest team in the nation”. The wings definitely support that initiative and furthermore, look down right wicked. These aren’t angel wings…their shape resembles an array of knives and has a flair of tribal aesthetic to them.
THE CARBON FIBER
Carbon fiber is a composite material used in aerospace, bicycling and sailing to name of a few. The strength to weight ratio is astounding with this material (seeing a trend?) and allows for a much higher tensile strength without sacrificing weight in many applications.
The recent uses of the ‘day-glo’ or ‘highlighter’ yellows have caused quite a stir as well. The intended result is to produce a blur so that the players look faster. The shoe depicted here has a faded effect that emulates what a shoe might look like on fire. The gloves, also shown, show the teams logo and wings…a nice touch. Functionally, this design creates a nice contrast for the quarterback who quite literally is aiming for the hands as a target when passing.
Some of the other documented effects that have been met with cheers and jeers are the increase in merchandise sales due to the wider offerings in the uniforms. Try keeping up with all of them in your collection, it can get pricey fast.
Other aspects are where recruiting is involved. Fashion and design are a proven factor of importance for today’s youth and Oregon is the Milan, Italy for football uniforms. These are high design and high fashion…as well as expensive to create and own. Players in todays recruiting pools respond to this, and it has a streak of prestige to it that echoes the NFL…presumably where those recruits want to go.
Here’s where we look at my hypothesis and see if there’s reality to my claims. In 1994 Coach Rich Brooks departed and announced then, offensive coordinator Mike Bellotti to the role of head coach. This coincides very closely with the year that the uniforms were first updated. Mike Bellotti coached from 1995 – 2008 (13 years) and went on to become the winningest coach in school history. Coincidence? Let’s look at some other numbers. The predecessor, Rich Brooks coached from 1977 – 1994 (17 years) and managed a .456 percentage. Bellotti on the other hand finished his career at Oregon with a .678 percentage. So, it could just be that he was a better coach right? Well, Coach Chip Kelly 2009 – Present, holds a .880 record and has taken his team to the BCS Championship in 2010.
So, here’s what I think is the deathblow….in the school’s 116 year history (long time) NO coach has held a statistically significant percentage that is better than Bellotti. Only 6 coaches in the school’s history held a better percentage than Bellotti out of a total of 34 coaches or 17%. These coaches coached a total of 83 games combined. That’s less than half of the games that Coach Bellotti coached in his career and still finished with the percentage that he did.
So, what does this mean? I think I’ve been clear about what my opinion. I hope I’ve helped you decide for yourself too. One thing is for certain, design is a game changer. It’s a secret weapon and sometimes the only edge in a world where competition is fierce. This is my philosophy.