The New University of Tennessee Vols Brand Identity

In Brand Identity by Ed Williams

In 1997 the University of Tennessee Volunteers (Vols) partnered with Adidas on a uniform deal. On June 30 of this year that deal ended. And in no time did they partner with Nike and its Graphic Identity Group to release an entirely new brand identity that now stretches across all 20 of its sports teams.

And I’ve got to say.

I’m thoroughly impressed.

What came before the rebrand was convoluted and inconsistent across all 20 teams.

If you run over to Google Image search and search “Vols logo” it’ll bring you to a big collection of various images. But there’s no need for you to do that because I’ve pulled some of the images from Google and included them below. Looking at all 3 collages we can get a pretty clear idea that a more consistent, unified rebrand was needed.

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vols logo - Google Search - Google Chrome_2015-07-12_12-13-16

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In an effort to create consistency across all applications that honors the past while attracting new audiences in an authentic and meaningful way, there will be a new primary logo that pays tribute to what Volunteer Athletics stands for. The Power T logo has stood as a primary icon for The University of Tennessee Athletics for over half a century. It signals a strong foundation that honors the tradition that has been built across decades of competition that creates distinction. The weight has been adjusted to maintain the powerful look and visual presence of the T, which will serve as the main identifying device for all programs. Source.Tennessee Athletics Press Release

The collaboration took into account the Vols rich history and future outlook that resulted in a new logo, wordmarks, and identity.

The logo

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No major changes were made to the Power T logo that debuted in 1964. With a strong focus on the Vols’ history this was an appropriate logo redesign. They refined it and gave it a face-lift. It lost 10 lbs and retained its iconic form.

Rebranding an organization, business, sports team, or any other brand that’s been around for this long is always a gamble. Too many changes to the logo communicates inconsistency within the organization. When something has been around for over half a century, changing it really has a tendency to upset longstanding fans and brand loyalists. The decision to keep it the same yet adjust subtly was great. In the overlay image below (white = old logo, gray = new logo) you’ll see how they “took the pounds off” and refined it.

Vols-Old-v-New-Logo

The Power T logo has stood as a primary icon for The University of Tennessee Athletics for over half a century. It signals a strong foundation–honoring the tradition that has been built across decades of competition while creating distinction and reinforcing the brand for the next generation. Doug Dickey introduced the iconic `Power T’ that represents the Tennessee sports programs on its football helmets in 1964, Dickey’s first year as head football coach, then re-designed by Johnny Majors when he became coach in 1977. Through this exercise, the primary mark has been standardized and adjustments to the geometry have been made to maintain consistent proportions and ensure visual impact. The weight has been adjusted to maintain the powerful look and visual presence of the T, which will serve as the main identifying device for all programs. Reinforcement of the primary identity will build equity in the Tennessee Athletics brand. In primary or secondary colors, the Power T logo works well across all media. With a flexible approach to palettes and logo staging, the Power T logo is positioned to represent the University for years to come.Tennessee Athletics Press Release

The wordmark

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For those who may not be familiar with the term, a wordmark is a logo comprised of a distinct text-only treatment. You’re already familiar with this as Google, FedEx, Coca-Cola, and IBM use these. Some organizations may only have a wordmark while others, like the Vols, will have a combination of both a logomark (the above Power T logo) and wordmark..

Now I’ll admit.

This had to grow on me over the past few days. Even early yesterday I was still on the fence, but Nike’s very comprehensive brand audit set a very clear goal that I think this wordmark achieves in combination with the above Power T logo: Respect the Past, Represent the Future.

  • The new wordmark is big and bold. You can’t miss it. It makes a statement of being changed and refreshed.
  • The slanted tops and bottoms of the individual letters give it a great sense of movement and rhythm. It feels progressive.
  • It provides a consistent wordmark lockup for all teams.

Where the newly designed Power T logo respects the past by not changing too much, the new wordmark represents the future. Both of these marks combined honor both original project goals and really make Tennessee standout from other institutions.

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The entire identity brings all 20 teams to the same starting line so that they can finish together. 

For someone who’s never even visited the University of Tennessee let alone attend, this new brand identity system appeals to me. It unites all teams across the board. The uniforms all communicate pride in their traditions and history, yet are very forward moving and progressive. And their particular hue of orange is energizing and charging. Check out a few images below to see for yourself.

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To view the entire photo gallery showcasing the new identity, visit it here.

Final Thoughts

Your organization is never too old to go through a rebrand process if necessary. In the case of the Vols, their contract with Adidas was over and wanted to visually represent the direction the Volunteers Athletics was headed for years to come.

When the vision of your organization changes and your current identity no longer accurately represents it, not only consider a newer direction but a rebrand as well. We are highly visual beings. You don’t have to be a designer to know how something communicates to you. The psychology of lines, geometric shapes, colors, fonts, and more are all well known to you even if you don’t know how to quite articulate them yet.  Designers will use all of these to communicate the intended message, which is often why graphic design is called communication design. What you put out visually is what will come back to you.