Redesigning The NFL Experience

A discussion with designer Michael Cina explores the grid system of the Fox Sports graphics, experimenting with color and the skinny on everyone’s favorite footballing robot, Cleatus.

There is a rare form of sports fan, a few fellow PSFK’ers included, that have an equal appreciation for athletics as they do for aesthetics. And American football usually comes up first in conversation when the user experience is discusssed.

Still, it is the mainstream eye–the everyman–that we think makes up the majority of Sunday game watchers. So how difficult is it to present the illuminating excitement on the screen to both?

From Motionographer comes a fascinating interview with Michael Cina of Cina Associates on the redesign of the Fox Sports information graphics for television.

“Normally a client will say they want something generic or meaningless like cutting edge, sexy, fun, cool and I have to extract what they are really’ saying.  They were very specific about wanting something that would look good a decade later, something that would stand the test of time, a look totally different from what they had. Clean typography, easy to read, interesting, bold, etc. It was exciting to think of seeing some grid systems in use with clean sans, simple colors, etc when you watched sports.”

Cina first drew out grids to plot significant visual points and typographic positionings for the screen design, all while keeping “the common man” in mind and their appreciation for simplicity.

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After first approaching the project with a simple Swiss type treatment, Cina would position different type layouts across a screen capture of a football field, struggling with the idea of traditional design being accept by a mainstream audience. He finally stripped down the look, using color and form to break apart data sections apart, while staying on the grid.

“It’s more than just showing the data, it’s how the information works as a system and how it animates. So let’s say there is a touchdown, how does the new data function in the layout? What if they want to feature a player or talk about another game going on at the same time? How do you show that with the info that you have designed? So it’s not as simple as it may seem. It’s a complex system and needs to work seamlessly.”

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“One of the main things they wanted to achieve was ‘the bar test’ which is basically means you can see it across a smokey bar after you have had a couple of drinks. This is the main thing that always made me scratch my head because I would turn on the TV, stand back, and I could never see the stats because of all the noise around the information. Besides that, you have to fight for every pixel, so why not make it simple?”

Even as Cina’s design dominated the visual layout of broadcasts, the network introduced Cleatus, the Fox Sports robot in 2006, heading towards a 3D approach to graphics. Cina’s thoughts:

“What we did was galaxies away from what they had at the time and where they went that next season. It seems like they needed to see something like this to know they didn’t want to go down that route and wanted to make robots crash through TV’s.

I have a different vision than most people. Personally, I love to push graphic design and have my whole career. There is an insatiable hunger for aesthetics over content, even in the news, so how do you expect sports to be a beacon of light? People want FUN, not FACTS, so I think they went in the right direction.”

Motionographer | NFL on Fox Sports Redesign: Q+A with Michael Cina

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