Nike has unveiled the kits that the England football team will be wearing in their World Cup campaign in Russia this year. The designs feature a bespoke typeface created by Craig Ward. We asked him about what the process involved.
CR: How did you come to be involved?
I was contacted in the first instance back in spring 2016 by the kit designer at Nike — Kenny McIver. I actually almost missed the project entirely as he reached out via LinkedIn, which I rarely checked at the time! Obviously my answer was an immediate yes.
CR: What was the brief? How ‘English’ was the type required to be versus other influences?
The brief was, I guess as you’d expect, to create something that felt dynamic, contemporary, English… of course. Connectivity was a theme – there was a desire to create something that unified the country and they were really keen to feature the St George’s cross in some capacity. That in particular was a curveball as it’s so specific, but it led to some really interesting first stage exploratory work. Kenny was also keen for the type to be born out of some kind of experimental process as it was something he liked about my work and wanted to carry through into the design.
CR: There are some strict FIAF guidelines regarding kit design (the full 100-page document is available here), can you explain what the restrictions are regarding type and player names and how you dealt with them?
It was a learning process for sure. There were myriad factors — legibility at a certain distance being huge, no ligatures, letter width, x height considerations etc etc. We dealt with them as they came up to be honest, a lot of work fell by the wayside but our concept never really changed so it was really a question of problem solving. The twisting design of the type suggested almost a stencil-like approach, but then we were hit by the rule that each letter could feature no more than three ‘parts’, so the design had to reworked with that in mind.
CR: In terms of type design, what doesn’t work in this context? Presumably blackletter was a no-no?!
Hah, yes basically. It’s exactly as you’d expect really; there was some stuff that was never going to fly – and nor would it have been appropriate. Script letterforms etc just wouldn’t have gotten signed off. Some of my early drawings had alternates and they were out, ligatures etc are out also.
CR: What other unique factors are there when working in this context?
I think the scale and pressure of a project like this can’t be discarded. We all saw how the Leeds rebrand recently drew the ire of the general public and I’m from a family of football obsessives, so it was a little nerve-wracking going in. This sort of project – anything on a national level – is frequently divisive.
CR: In terms of research – what was the process? What did you look at?
I began by looking at the clarity and geometry of classic English typefaces (Gill, Flaxman, Johnston etc) – particularly when condensed, as that was also a requirement. I noticed how they lost some of their implied geometry in these instances and decided to create something that didn’t buckle like that. Parts of the type actually quote aspects of other fonts to feel a little more familiar – the W in Railway Sans in particular, and the flare of the alternate R is a nod to Gill. I also included a perfectly circular O should they want to use it.
CR: Can you describe the creative process on the project eg who were you working with, stages approvals
Kenny was my point of contact throughout which was helpful, sometimes the bearer of good news, sometimes less so! The approvals process, as I mentioned, featured input from The FA, FIFA, even the England manager (Sam Allardyce at the time) had to approve.
CR: Can you talk us through the final design and what you were going for?
I really wanted to create something dynamic that hinged on the cross icon, so I modeled and animated the core of the type in 3D software. I created a simple grid, drew single line paths for the letterforms and added a cross as a sweep around the path, which went on to inform the inline aspect and the twists in the letters. I’m hoping that the movement that went into creating the letterforms comes through in the final pieces.
We talked about adding depth too, so I created inline, outline and fill versions of the type so varnishes and secondary inks could be applied with different effects.
You really don’t get many opportunities like this in a career so I’m hugely grateful to have had a go at creating something interesting that we can own for the next couple of years at least.
CR: Is this typeface going to win us the world cup?!
Absolutely. If not then I’ll settle for a D&AD pencil.
With Annette Gallo, Craig Ward runs New York studio Gallo Ward, specialising in strategy and creative solutions for the worlds of art, architecture, hospitality and new developments