As I typed the headline to this blog post it struck me how fast time flies. I still think of the Broncos identity as “new” even though it’s been around since 1997. When I look at the horse logo on the side of the helmet it still seems new and modern.
Back in 1996 I was a 26-year old assistant designer at NIKE in a department called Team Sports. Team Sports was part of NIKE Apparel, and our mission was to outfit players on field head to toe with NIKE stuff. We created all the on field authentic apparel as well as sideline hats, sweatshirts, t-shirts, pants, jackets and other team gear. To strengthen partnerships with teams, we sometimes redesigned and rebranded them like we did for the Denver Broncos.
Pat Bowlen, owner of the Denver Broncos came to us at NIKE and asked us to design him a horse equivalent of the NIKE swoosh. In his words he said, “I want a horse that looks like it’s going to kick your ass”. In February 1996 a core team came together to give Mr. Bowlen what he wanted. Todd Van Horne was the Creative Director (Todd also led the Seattle Seahawks uniform update in 2012), Ken Black was the Art Director, David Odusanya was Lead Designer and I was the Assistant Designer.
Throughout the project we worked with other creatives from NIKE, but the four of us made up the nucleus of the rebrand team. The first thing we did in the creative process was research. We spent a month getting to know the Broncos as well as they knew themselves (or better). We summed up their entire existence into a brand research book. We had the opportunity to visit the NFL Hall of Fame and go through the archives (which are closed to the public).
RESEARCH AND THE GHOST HORSE OF THE PLAINS
Our research led us to identify uncontrollable forces in nature like lightning, waves volcanoes and fire. We came across a Native American legend of a “ghost horse” of the plains. The legend of this ghost horse was that it was so spirited it couldn’t be tamed or broken by man...
The notion of uncontrollable forces was an overarching theme throughout the whole process. What was it that was at the heart of living things that made them so strong. How was their will so strong it couldn't be tamed?
As we sat down to sketch out thumbnails we tried to visually combine the elements of those inspiration images into our ideas. We sketched hundreds of ideas and laid them all out on the conference room table. Some had elements of a serpent while others have the explosive flow of a wave.
We whittled all those sketches down to about a dozen different concepts and from there converted the sketches to Illustrator files where we could explore each concept. It became clear to us that a horse's power comes from its neck. Wherever the head and neck go, the body follows. So throughout the design process we emphasized the flow of the power through the neck.
To capture elements of the ghost horse, we wanted to represent the fire in the belly of the beast. And because the eyes are the windows to the soul, the final logo became a white "ghost" horse with fiery orange eyes.
Lead Designer, David Odusanya grew up in Great Britain and was mostly unfamiliar with American football. It was interesting to watch him explore the logo concepts looking through an impartial set of eyes. On the other hand, I grew up in Colorado as a Bronco fan, so the entire process was very personal.
FINALIZING THE MARK
We presented to Pat Bowlen at the Broncos HQ three times. Without Mr. Bowlen's clear vision of what he wanted, we might have ended up with something different, but he kept pushing us to make it better and deliver a timeless mark that was the horse equivalent of a swoosh.
As we got closer to a final primary logo, we worked closely with Tracy Teague in footwear design and David Turner in apparel design to create forward thinking head to toe performance gear. Much like the air sole in shoes, NIKE likes to show off technological advancements. Turner's "batwing" uniform design was more advanced than anything in existence.
The uniform design featured a curved side stripe that served as a "hinge" and kept the jersey snug against the player's body, which was a radical design at the time. We highlighted that feature by making it a different color, which resembled a wing. The media thought NIKE was trying to put a subliminal swoosh into the uniform (and even in the nose of the logo) but if they new how strict NIKE legal was about how the swoosh is supposed to appear, they would know that was a reach. We all got a good chuckle out of watching conspiracy theories materialize out of thin air.
The final Denver Broncos logo was the result of several months of exploring and refining. Exploring and refining. We played with different options of how the logo would appear on the helmet to capture the strength of the horse's neck.
In September 1996 we presented to Pat Bowlen and every one loved what is, and has become the current logo. We set out to create a timeless mark that represented everyone Mr. Bowlen was looking for. And at the end of the day, we created a brand that was an outward sign of an inward belief.