The Functionality of Apparel Design

March 4, 2013

Loyal readers probably already know I love watching college basketball and my Jayhawks in particular. In the past few years, apparel companies keep coming up with more and more outrageous design ideas for uniforms. I sure hope some of the designers are getting fired, as they fail at the basics of functionality.

Yesterday I was watching a game featuring Michigan. Their “new” uniforms were all neon yellow, including socks and shoes. The players looked like electric bananas. I thought they were hideous to watch, but even worse is the lack of functionality as the names and numbers on the jerseys were in the same yellow. It was absolutely impossible to read any player’s name. So no matter how ugly they might be, they fail at the basics.

My Jayhawks were forced to wear similar all-blue uniforms in a game earlier this season. I know the players by sight, but it would be impossible for the casual fan to know who was on the court. As if these mono-color uniforms aren’t bad enough, the same apparel company wants several teams to wear clown suits in an upcoming game.

OK, so technically they aren’t clown suits, but they are insanely ugly as you can see from the photo above. Baylor has already worn the ugly yellow uniform shown hear. My Jayhawks will supposedly wear theirs in a couple of weeks.

Of course the idea behind all these new uniforms is to sell copies of them to fans. But when the uniforms are this ugly and the fan backlash is so loud, the plan will backfire. I personally will not purchase anything manufactured by Adidas if my team is actually forced to wear these glorified pajamas from the 80s. I have let the school know my feelings as have hundreds (if not thousands) of other fans.

So what can you learn as a designer? It is OK to think outside the box and try new things. But in this case, being able to read the names and numbers is important. It is even more important for people watching on television. Sure, the new designs get mentioned. I’ve just yet to hear anything at all positive said about them. And if you design something so awful that it embarrasses the team wearing it, that is not going to help your sales.

I know a lot of you design apparel for sports teams, though it may not be at the university or pro level. As you are designing, think what qualifies make for the best fan experience. What can you do to make the team/school look good? There is a reason that the best uniforms are also some of the simplest. Gimmicks like those described above are a sure way to fail.

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Foster D. Coburn III is author of 13 best-selling books on CorelDRAW and has been a contributor to numerous technology and graphics-related magazines. Foster has taken many projects, including this Web site, from the early design stage through to a finished piece. He has been a featured speaker at many graphics conferences. His first Web site was built in 1995 and he has been working exclusively in WordPress since 2013.

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