Feature Friday #011 — Todd Radom

Hello, everyone. Welcome to Feature Friday #011, our first in 2024, featuring friend of the site Todd Radom. Check out Todd’s incredible work over the years on his website. You can keep up with him on Twitter and Instagram. You might also like his tribute to Cuban baseball on Cotton Bureau.

Todd! It’s good to finally catch up with you. Before we get into your prolific career in sports branding, I just have to ask: what do you think of the NBA City Edition uniforms for this year?

I hate being a hater, but there’s more bad than good here. This is what happens when the mandate is one of constant churn, a revolving cycle of change which distances many teams from their familiar core looks. Like many, I see game highlights on my phone and wonder, “who are these teams?” The novelty that surrounded this program has abated, and I wonder how it moves forward.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but sports is a business and being a business means constant pressure to not just make money but make more money than the year before. The original city editions were fun. Time to move on, I guess.

While we’re talking NBA, the In-Season Tournament courts have been a lightning rod for design criticism. Where do you weigh in?

I’ll start by saying that I have created colorful, unconventional courts for the BIG3 for several years now. Theirs is a half court, a more forgiving canvas for bold blocks of color, and it goes without saying that some of the NBA courts look great, while some are an assault on the eyeballs. The idea here is a good one–a graphic approach that has been done before (the classic Robert Indiana-designed Mecca court in Milwaukee.) Ultimately, court design is about form and function, and form sometimes needs to take a step back. I applaud the Association for doing something different here, if their intent was to get people’s attention they have succeeded.

Wow, I didn’t realize how extensive your involvement was with the Big 3.

Personally I enjoy the creative license the NBA took. They weren’t the first — you mentioned the Big 3, and we’ve seen some adventurous college football fields (Boise State) and basketball courts (Oregon) — but if I had to guess, we’re going to see more from the NBA and others now that the seal has been broken. Let’s just hope we can find a happy medium between creativity and clarity in the mold of that Robert Indiana court.

Meanwhile in baseball, the big uniform news is… narrower plackets? The devil’s always in the details, I suppose. When you’re working with teams and leagues, how much are you taking physical materials and other real world production constraints into consideration as you work through design concepts?

My Big3 work represents the most immersive creative collaboration of my long career, and it’s constant and ongoing.

The new Nike MLB template is going to take some getting used to. Teams like the Tigers and Red Sox have more or less looked the same for almost a century–the use of what we have come to know as a standard sized placket dates back even earlier. To answer your question, some details need to be designed to fit such constrains, while others do not. A half inch difference in the size of a sleeve patch or a uniform number makes no difference, but thinking about the dimensions of uniform trim, for example, can make a huge difference when it comes to envisioning the final product.

Physical media constraints are a frustrating but I think ultimately enjoyable puzzle for designers. We’ve seen that first-hand as we’ve worked with designers on transitioning ideas that were originally conceived for screenprinted or DTG t-shirts to the much chunkier and restrictive world of embroidered hats.

With your portfolio ranging from Super Bowl logos to MLB identities to the full league challenge of BIG3 and beyond, is there a particular area that you are hoping to explore in the future? Maybe if we speak it into existence you could be involved with the 2026 USMNT World Cup kit?

Dimensional puff embroidery has changed things. Abundant detail should be carefully considered, knowing that the final intended results may be difficult to achieve.

In terms of what’s next, I will have a couple of milestone, “bucket list” things to share in 2024, things that I couldn’t have imagined when I began this creative journey all those years ago. Stay tuned.

We will! Can’t wait to see what qualifies as a bucket list project given what you’ve already accomplished.

I’m sure you’re familiar with Bill Simmons’ imaginary sports czar position where the government decides one day to nationalize all sports leagues and give one person full authority over all decision making. If this pretend sports czar empowered you to make all decisions regarding uniforms, branding, and media, what kind of changes would you institute in your first year in office?

- Always start with “why are we doing this or making this change?”
- Be mindful of the balance between form and function
- Know that we live in a profoundly different world than we did in 2017, 2007, or 1907. Brands evolve, fans and customers evolve. Appealing to something that worked in the past offers no guarantee of future success.
- Sports is fun. What we do should reflect that.

Speaking of the world changing, let’s wrap this conversation up with a look at where things are right now in the sports graphic design universe and where they might be going.

A lot of your work is firmly anchored in the physical world. As a kid who grew up watching sports and collecting trading cards, I can appreciate both the fun of opening, holding, and preserving a tangible artifact as well as the reality that sports memorabilia is a massive industry with a lot of money attached. How do you think the introduction of officially licensed NFTs (like NBA Top Shot) fits into the sports business and design space? Are NFTs something you have any personal or professional interest in?

No interest whatsoever. Crypto feelings aside, I want to connect with actual, tangible objects, not another image in my phone.

Based on the complete collapse of the NFT bubble, you’re probably not alone. A lot of speculation, very little genuine enthusiasm.

Okay, for real, last question. I have to ask because it’s the single most transformative event in graphic design since Photoshop… what do you think of generative AI? Legality aside, why should someone work with Todd Radom the person instead of Bot Radom?

It’s a great question, and it’s one that the world is reckoning with in real time. We do know that generative AI is rapidly evolving; as someone said early last year, “this is the worst it’s ever gonna look.” Being able to eliminate a background in Photoshop with one click is truly astounding. But ultimately, and it’s easier for me to say this at this point in my career than when I witnessed the adoption of Photoshop and friends: You are getting me, my knowledge, my technical skills, and my experience as an actual living breathing human being who has a lifetime of creative experience, which includes making well-informed instinctive decisions on composition, color, balance, and harmonious use of elements, in addition to strategy and four decades of production knowledge. I do worry about the continual devaluation of creativity going forward and I remember vising the late Milton Glaser at his New York office, where the following motto was inscribed above the front door: “Art is Work."

Thank you so much for your time, Todd!