Aston Villa’s new badge was revealed this week and was immediately met with the inevitable hail of criticism from the mainstream press with initial unsubstantiated reports claiming that the club had spent £2 million on the redesign which supposedly simply involved removing the word ‘prepared’ from the previous design. Here’s the Sun’s headline:
And The Birmingham Mail’s:
And The Mirror’s:
A statement from the club, however, says the project will actually cost less than £80,000.
In the new design, the lion rampant has been redrawn by engraver Christopher Wormell and SomeOne has created a bespoke typeface and a new set of assets including bas relief images, engraved marks and detailed stitching depicting the new lion. (Stitching will be introduced on shirts next season and the bas relief will be used on packaging and print materials).
Much of the criticism surrounding the project has been aimed at the club spending money on a redesign when it is at the bottom of the Premier League and currently facing relegation (which would result in a significant loss of income). But as SomeOne co-founder and executive strategic creative director Gary Holt points out, the project was commissioned before the start of the season at a time when Villa’s fortunes looked considerably less bleak.
“The context is that it’s landing now, or being discovered now, when the team is bottom of the league and more than likely to be relegated, which is unfortunate,” he adds.
SomeOne was commissioned when the club was facing a change of management last year and Holt says there was a desire to “re-energise” Villa’s image and redefine what the club stands for. There was also a feeling that the brand’s current image didn’t reflect its heritage – founded in 1888, Villa is one of the founding members of the Football League and one of only five English teams to have won the European Cup.
SomeOne was asked to review the club’s communications and identified that its previous badge was not performing “as well as the club would like” in digital applications. Holt says the project didn’t start out as a badge refresh but rather, an assessment of “the entire way the club communicates” and how it could communicate better across all media.
Villa had also run focus groups with fans who expressed some criticism of the club’s current badge and branding. “There were a number of fans saying, ‘the way we present ourselves isn’t really world class’,” says Holt. Supporters apparently also questioned the lack of claws in the lion rampant: earlier versions of the club’s badge, which has gone through at least eight revisions in its 142-year history, had featured claws, but this was later replaced with a lion with softened paws. “People were saying it didn’t best represent the club,” adds Holt. (A heraldic symbol, the lion is supposed to represent valour, strength and bravery).
In focus groups, Holt says some fans had also expressed a preference for an earlier, circular badge (something that has been raised in forums following the announcement of the redesign) but Holt says the shield was the shape most commonly deemed to be associated with the club. Based on this feedback, SomeOne decided to keep the shield but commissioned to draw a new lion, this time with claws.
The new lion sits larger within the shield and has been refined to work better at small sizes and on screens. “When you’re redrawing crests or heraldry for the digital age, you have to expand on the counter shapes – if you look at the previous badge, the shape between the lion’s legs would get very small and its legs would kind of merge together [at small sizes],” explains Holt.
The word ‘prepared’ was removed (something that, given the club’s current predicament, has been met with some derision) so that both the lion and Villa’s initials can sit larger within the shield – again to aid legibility – but Holt says the word has not been dropped from the club’s communications.
“A lot of people have attacked the word ‘prepared’ coming out, but there’s nothing to stop it going under the badge, which is quite a typical thing to do in heraldry,” he says. “When focus groups looked at [the shield], their focus was less on the word and more on the lion and the colours, on having claret and blue and a gold lion,” adds Holt.
While the subtlety of changes has been led to questions about the need for the redesign (as demonstrated in the headlines above), Holt says SomeOne wanted to avoid making any dramatic revisions to the badge – in part because fans felt attached to the shield and lion, but also because SomeOne were keen to avoid creating a design that would render the previous badge obsolete.
“The current badge is all over the club and the grounds, so we thought if we could address the issues fans had with the badge, in such a way that it doesn’t contradict or make the old badge look dated, then you can answer fans needs without haemorrhaging huge amounts of money,” he explains. “If you were to reintroduce a circular badge, your degree of change would be greater … and we were aware that a significant change would mean significant expense.”
Alongside the new design, SomeOne has created a bespoke typeface which also features ‘claws’ in letters and numbers. Holt says the display font is part of an attempt to make everything in the club – from wayfinding to the numbers on shirts – feel branded and part of the club.
Redesigning any football club’s crest is a daunting task and even more so when that club is facing difficulties. Fans have a strong emotional connection to their chosen clubs – as Holt points out, some have club badges tattooed on their body and many supporters feel a strong personal attachment to it – so redesigns, however minor, must be handled sensitively.
“Having that feedback from focus groups is more important than perhaps with any other brand we deal with,” says Holt. “Research is always important, and understanding what customers think, but I’d say it’s pivotal with football clubs,” he adds. While he acknowledges that the opinions in focus groups won’t reflect those of all Villa fans, Holt says the redesign has been created with supporters’ views in mind and is based on what fans said they’d like to see from the club’s badge.
The negative response in national papers is unsurprising – it’s another example of the kind of knee-jerk reaction often seen after any kind of high profile branding project (something James Greenfield addressed in this articlefollowing The Met and Premier League rebrands) and it’s understandable that fans would question the cost of the project given the club’s current situation. But, like it or not, football clubs these days aren’t just clubs but global businesses, and Villa is just one of several to have redesigned its badge for a digital age (see Craig Oldham’s piece for CR for other examples, including Arsenal, Tottenham and Everton).
Cosmo Jameson, a designer at SomeOne and a lifelong Villa fan who worked on the project, says that the previous badge was flawed and in need of a refresh. The new one aims to give the club a more “succinct image” he says, and make the lion the centre of Villa’s branding. Jameson says he grew up copying badge designs from his shirts, but says the previous lion had “no passion or pride.” The new lion has been generally well received among fans, he said – though most don’t think it looks all that different to the last.
“It’s quite funny, when you ask people outside the creative industries, the change is minuscule, but to us it’s not, it’s quite a big change … the whole badge has been recrafted, there’s a new typeface in there,” he says. Designing a new crest for his club has been both a daunting task and a dream job – but Jameson says the reaction among his family (including his Dad, who is also a fan and grew up near the ground) has been positive, particularly in response to new images of the bas relief. “Anything to do with touching football’s heritage is always going to be high risk, fans are keen to jump on things … but it’s been quite well received,” he claims.