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NHL Winter Classic

Winter Classic belt-buckle logo sets western theme for NHL outdoor game

Design making impact in Dallas ahead of Stars-Predators at Cotton Bowl

by Shawn P. Roarke @sroarke_nhl / Senior Director of Editorial

The Nashville Predators and Dallas Stars will play the 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic at Cotton Bowl Stadium on Jan. 1 (2 p.m. ET; NBC, SN, TVAS). In the runup to the game, and NHL Studios present "Making of The Winter Classic," a daily behind-the-scenes look at how the annual outdoor event comes together. Today, we focus on the crew that develops the logo and other graphical elements for the game. 

DALLAS -- In the development phase of any design, there is always that crystallizing moment when disparate elements fall into a cohesive whole. 

After fits of starts and stops, suddenly the design speaks to its creator and the creation process gains momentum at a breakneck pace.

For Paul Conway, the NHL's vice president of creative services, that moment in the design process for the 2020 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic came when his group stumbled upon the idea of using a belt buckle design to frame the various elements that need to be incorporated into the logo, which becomes the driving force in the marketing of the iconic New Year's Day event.

The logo becomes the omnipresent symbol of one of the League's most important events, appearing on the ice, on merchandise and in various marketing materials.

"The a-ha moment occurs when you start to push and pull elements within the logo composition, finding the right scale, balance and hierarchy," Conway said. "That's when everything starts to come into focus, and you have that breakthrough moment."

Video: Making of the 2020 Winter Classic logo and grounds

The NHL's Creative Services Department, a staff of nine, knew it wanted some sort of cowboy motif to celebrate the game being in Dallas and at Cotton Bowl Stadium. 

Would it be derived from the sheriff's badge, an iconic symbol of the Texas Ranger Division, or perhaps something that riffed off the stitching associated with cowboy boots and horse saddles?

In the end, it was the belt buckle, an oversized sartorial ornament favored by cowboys, that won the day.

"The shape just felt big and iconic" Conway said. "The silver aspect of the belt matched up with the silver qualities of our shield. It just starts to click. Then we started laying in the Winter Classic typography and stylizing the font and that is when it really came full circle. So it was it was a cool process."

The design department felt so strongly about the design that they were going to get replicas made after it cleared the approval process.

That a-ha moment was the culmination of more than 400 hours of development by the creative services department and, once approved, was the jumping-off point to hundreds of hours in the implementation process. 

Once the logo is finalized, NHL Creative Services develops a brand style guide and an asset package guide that is distributed to League's various departments and external stakeholders, including sponsors and rightsholders. Eventually it works its way into other mediums, including event signage across the city, key cards at various hotels and directional signage across the state fairgrounds footprint.

"It's to create awareness and brand exposure for the event," said Greg Mueller, design director for the creative services department. "It amplifies the message and the notoriety around the event to give it a little more equity as well. It allows us to control the brand and allows everything to come from the same visual voice."

And it allows Conway, Mueller and the rest of the creative services department to relive their breakthrough moment everywhere they look.

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