Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be a designer in the sports industry? Well, you’re in for a treat because today we’re joined by Design Directors for the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs—the two NFL teams going head-to-head this Super Bowl Sunday 2020.
Get excited, because designers Christine Zambetti (SF 49ers) and Jordan Giesler (KC Chiefs) are about to give you an inside look into the fascinating world of sports design while also sharing some actionable tips for getting started in this exciting, and fast-paced industry.
Tell us about your background in design.
Christine: I’m from Memphis, Tennessee, and I found my love for design after doing yearbook in high school—I remember spending hours editing and designing pages. I ended up applying to colleges as a business major but quickly realized that design was my real passion. I got into Auburn University and switched to a Graphic Design major early on in my freshman year.
Jordan: I was born and raised in Kansas City; I went to a small school in Kansas called Pittsburg State, where I found my love for design and sports. My first big break really was when I landed my role as the Kansas City Chiefs Assistant Designer in 2012. For me, that was surreal—I grew up rooting for the Chiefs and I couldn’t believe that they wanted me to make work for them! That was a dream come true for sure.
Jordan: I got my first start in sports design as an assistant designer at the Chiefs. When I applied, I didn’t even think that there were many (or any) design roles in sports, so I was surprised at the opening with the team I love. I was always a HUGE Chiefs fan—I grew up going to Chiefs games, watching them with my dad, wearing Tony Gonzalez jerseys, and eating BBQ just like the rest of Kansas City. Arrowhead was always (and still is) a special place, so the ability to create for this brand is very special to me.
60th Season Style Guide — Chiefs
Christine: In the South, football is king, so I grew up watching both college ball and the NFL. My brother and my dad were huge Florida fans, and my mom was a big Auburn fan. My brother was also really good at football and I grew up watching him play and cheering him on (he later went to play at Brown University). That’s really where I fell in love with sports—sitting down on the weekends with a bunch of buffalo wings, watching football and cheering on your team.
It’s amazing how reaching out and making connections can make such an impact on your career.
Christine: I got into sports design during my senior year after a professor recommended I apply to a sports internship at Auburn University. Sports and design sounded like a really fun combination, so I was excited about the opportunity and ended up getting it. Later on after graduating, I landed a job at the University of Arkansas where I worked my way up into building and managing a small team of designers there.
Fayetteville is beautiful, but I eventually started looking for job opportunities in bigger cities. The Creative Director of the Houston Rockets, Jose Lopez, had been a mentor of mine for some time and knew someone at the 49ers who just left. He told me to apply for the position and the rest is history! It’s amazing how reaching out and making connections can make such an impact on your career.
All-Pro Graphic — 49ers
Tell us a little bit about your team’s branding. How does branding play a role in sports?
Jordan: The Chiefs have a very traditional brand. We stay true to our roots; we haven’t changed our logo since we moved to Kansas City in 1963, and to me, that’s a fantastic thing. It was very important early on for us to identify who we are and what makes our fans tick. We have to make sure that everything runs through the proper objective filters to ensure that we are staying true to ourselves and genuine to our fans. That’s what really builds consistency—knowing our “why” and “what” for the fans—that to me is the most important part of our brand. It’s much more than logos or Pantone colors; it’s a mutual understanding, it’s being a fan yourself and delivering a brand that respects the past but also represents the future.
The Chiefs have a very traditional brand. We haven’t changed our logo since we moved to Kansas City in 1963, and to me, that’s a fantastic thing.
As far as branding for sports specifically, I would argue it’s one of the most important elements. Fans buy your brand, fans buy tickets, so it’s much more than wins and losses. It’s about your own brand’s identity, and how fans can relate/identify with it. We are very fortunate to have such strong roots in this community and traditions to pull from.
60th Season Style Guide — Chiefs
Christine: The 49ers brand is pretty classic. I think it helps that there’s a history of greatness with winning five Super Bowls in the past. Our iconic red and gold colors also add to that classic feel, but we also need to have a modern take on our brand because of all of the amazing things that are currently happening with the team and our amazing players. We really want to focus on the modern version of a classic brand.
The 49ers iconic red and gold colors add to that classic feel… but we really want to focus on the modern version of our classic brand.
Design has a huge impact on how people perceive a sports team. As a designer, you get to be the visual voice of the team. You have to know what coaches, general managers, and players are all thinking and feeling to develop a brand that fans will also want to see and be a part of. One of the greatest things about sports design is being able to influence new fans and get people excited. This includes design work that fans see off of the field (which is most of the year)—you still get to keep that excitement going.
NFC Champonship Graphics — 49ers
What kind of designs do you get to work on for your NFL team?
Christine: There are five of us on our design team, and we handle every department’s requests. This includes everything from our website, social media, special events, assets for our sales team, PR, etc.—we have a hand in it. We ultimately help control which kind of design is appropriate for any given platform.
Design Team — 49ers.
Jordan: I get to work on a little of everything. From billboards, campaigns, in-game jumbotron graphics, merchandise, social media, the list goes on and on. The thing I like to say is, if there is a Chiefs logo on it and it came from us, most likely I had a hand in creating it or approving it.
One of my favorite projects this year was our 60th season campaign. We put a lot of work into researching the KC Chiefs history for us to honor so many great things from our past. It started by establishing the mark, then redeveloping a fleet of throwback marks to use all season long, and then finally building design elements for us to create a system for our 60th brand package. From there, we were able to create merchandise with the throwback logos and a cohesive style guide for all of our fan-facing artwork like social media, billboards, and jumbotron graphics packages, and beyond.
Special 60th Season Marks — Chiefs.
What’s the best part about your job?
Jordan: The best part of being a sports designer is getting real-time feedback in-stadium. You get to see the fans enjoy your hard work every Sunday. It’s not normal to have 70,000+ screaming fans react to something you have made, but when it happens it absolutely gives you chills.
Christine: Getting to see how your designs shape a whole fan base and how the team is perceived is one of the best parts of the job. Keeping that excitement going through what you put out on social media, outside of the stadium, graphics on the video boards that people walk by and pose with…
Can you tell us about the Super Bowl and what we can expect design-wise?
Jordan: We’re working up some graphics for the Super Bowl—all I can say at this moment is we are going to stay true to who we are with our work. Of course there will be some fun additions to the brand for the Super Bowl, but I can’t share those yet. What I can say is, I am very excited for them, and I hope our fans enjoy all the work we put into it!
Christine: Our team will be hard at work Super Bowl Sunday. We’ll have photographers sending us live photos for us to cut and edit immediately, using filters so that everything looks cohesive and on-brand. We’ll also be live designing things as we go like score graphics that have to get continually updated.
There is a ton of prep work that needs to get done before game day (creating templates, design systems, etc.) so designs can get pushed out quickly and seamlessly on all of our different platforms. At the same time, we’ll be trying to enjoy the moment and really take in what’s happening because it doesn’t happen very often!
What advice would you give a designer interested in getting into the sports industry?
Jordan: The best advice I can give is to diversify your style—it’s not enough to just emulate what’s out there. It is so much more impressive when you can define your own style, and that only comes from trying so many things. Teams want more than somebody who can create a photoshopped graphic that looks fire for a social media #WallpaperWednesday. Learn motion, learn typography, and build a strong foundation of the fundamentals of design.
But most of all, be nice! Honestly, just be a nice, genuine person. The sports design industry may seem large, but it really isn’t. We are a tight-knit community and we do our best to help each other out, so those personal skills and ability to build long-lasting relationships are key.
The sports design industry may seem large, but it really isn’t. We are a tight-knit community and we do our best to help each other out.
Christine: I highly recommend building your portfolio with sports-related designs through freelancing or making up your own personal projects. Your portfolio should have relevant work so that potential employers can see that you have a passion for sports. If you only have examples of things that don’t feel like they directly relate, it’s a lot harder for us to visualize. Ask yourself, does this style work in sports?
Also keep in mind, there are still areas of design that are lacking in sports. For example, illustration and motion design are becoming a lot more important and sought out. If you can incorporate or show examples of this kind of work in a sports setting, add it to your portfolio!
Finally, try to find someone in the industry who’s willing to mentor you. The sports design world is very accepting and wants to pay it forward, and most people are willing to help out. Reach out and try to make connections when you can ■
Thank you so much to Christine and Jordan for sharing their world with us! Best of luck to both teams this Super Bowl Sunday. If you’re tuning into the big game, be sure to keep an eye out for their awesome design work.