That’s Dope!

In a reversal of the usual Sports Brand Jury process, the judge will be laying out the case for the new visual branding of America’s sports anti-doping agency. And we’re leaving the verdict up to you

Every branding designer drools at the opportunity to create a new visual brand that has global presence and impact. But those opportunities are typically rare. So when the chance to design a new logo and branding system for the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) came about, I jumped in with both feet. For the second time.

My experience working with USADA (pronounced “you-saada”) goes way back. My first project for them came just a month after 9-11, when the fledgling organization was in its infancy and serious drug testing for athletes was almost non-existent. 

The case for anti-doping.

USADA was created on October 1, 2000 at the recommendation of a U.S. Olympic Committee task force. Their goal was to add independence and credibility to the country’s anti-doping movement. Hence, USADA was formally recognized by the U.S. Congress (who just recently voted for its reauthorization) as the official anti-doping body for all Olympic, Paralympic, Pan American and Parapan American sport in the United States. USADA has been instrumental in many high-profile doping investigations. Remember Barry Bonds and the BALCO lab conspiracy? Lance Armstrong and the U.S. Postal Service cycling team scheme? These are just the two most notable doping scandals that USADA has played a crucial role in over the past two decades.

Photos: Shutterstock and Alamy

As the official anti-doping agency, USADA has allocated millions of dollars for the development and pioneering of cutting-edge anti-doping science. But in addition to a thorough program of athlete urine and blood testing, USADA’s mission has also been to educate young athletes on the dangers of doping as well as the pitfalls of failing to adhere to testing protocols. Through their athlete education and TrueSport® outreach programs, the agency has also had success transforming their image from the “pee police” to the “guardian and protector” of clean sport, both in the U.S. and worldwide.

The USADA image history.

The USADA visual brand has seen just a few changes since its inception in 2000. The original logo, (the origination of which is a bit of a mystery) was created in the style of most U.S.-themed sports organizations at the time, with a stars and stripes badge design. It stood as the formal USADA logo until a visual rebrand in 2005 (my first “both feet” plunge). The new logo introduced a more progressive concept that featured a simplified “stars and bars” design. And in order to include equality in sport as part of the logo, the flag bars also symbolized an equal sign. The forward-leaning design added a subtle aspect of sports and motion to the logo.

Full disclosure: SBJ was the also the designer for the 2005 rebrand!

To Rebrand or Not to Rebrand, That is the Question.

Conventional thinking is that a company or organization should change (or at least seriously reevaluate) their visual brand every 7-10 years. Since 2005 the USADA logo had been slightly modified just twice, with the addition of separate oval and arc elements, both of questionable merit. By 2019, as USADA was preparing to commemorate their 20-year anniversary, the current logo was pushing 15 years old. After an extensive strategic analysis it was determined that 2020 would be the perfect time and opportunity to update the USADA logo and visual brand, beginning with a special twentieth anniversary design. This would be unveiled early in 2000 for use throughout the anniversary year.

The most significant results from the strategic analysis yielded three major conclusions:

1: The current USADA logo, although still strong, simple and globally recognizable, was dragged down a bit by the outdated and trendy arc element.

2: As USADA’s presence and influence as a global anti-doping leader has increased, especially over the last decade, the current national-themed colors (dark blue and red to match the U.S flag) had become too parochial to accurately represent the internationally-evolving USADA mission.

3. The 20th anniversary year presented the perfect opportunity to institute change under very positive conditions.

A 20th Challenge.

The decision was made to pursue a 20th anniversary commemorative logo with a USADA visual rebrand to follow. And a natural transition from one design to the other would create a win-win strategic scenario.

Prior to the design process, it was decided to retain two key elements from the existing logo in the new version – the flag stripes/equal sign and the star. To represent USADA as a guardian and protector, rather than an adversary to athletes, the concept of a shield was explored extensively. This included all shapes and sizes of crests, badges and emblems. In the end, a circle shield was selected not just for its representation of a battle shield, but because a circle also represents wholeness, oneness and completeness (all positive and supportive concepts). The new USADA typography was custom hand-lettered with strong upright characters to create a confident, dependable and trustworthy tone. A single star was placed above the central letter “A” which was purposely raised slightly above the others to symbolize the organization’s ongoing support of USADA’s north star – the clean athlete. This subtle move also created a pleasing symmetrical balance to the lettermark. The two red flag stripes were added as a solid base of support for the USADA name and star, while also presenting the concepts of equality and fair play. This completed the design and ensured that the key elements from the previous logo were retained.

The USADA 20th anniversary logo was introduced in early 2020 to commemorate two decades of the fight for clean sport.

With a few simple adjustments to the design, the 20th anniversary logo was then easily transformed into the new agency logo. The “20” and “2000-2020” numerals were removed and the remaining elements were reproportioned to fit more comfortably within the shield. On October 1, 2020 (the anniversary of the formation of USADA and the conclusion of the 20th year commemoration) the design switch was executed. (Um… I should probably never say executed in a courtroom.)

A side-by-side comparison of the two logo designs shows the natural transition between them.

Color Shift.

The colors from the previous USADA logo had been selected to match the patriotic and fairly dark red and blue hues from the American flag. As a relatively new organization when this logo was created in 2005, the choice of U.S. flag colors was a natural decision. Over the last 15 years however, USADA and its mission have significantly changed as the agency has evolved into a leading presence within the global anti-doping movement. Consequently, brighter and more vibrant hues were chosen to support an open and outward-facing image reflecting that transformation. Three separate tones of blue were introduced to add range and dimension to the design.

The Visual Brand Essence.

Purposely, the new USADA emblem can be appreciated from two different perspectives – national and global. The essence of the visual rebranding can be seen by dissecting the individual elements and identifying their separate but interdependent relationships within the logo.

The new USADA emblem includes a dual conceptual interpretation.

The primary full-color logo was designed to work well when applied to a variety of background colors. Guidelines for use indicate the approved options, including the addition of a small white outline to improve separation and contrast.

Note the use of the small white outline to enhance readability of the logo.

A simplified version of the new logo was also created for use in single color executions. USADA produces a vast amount of communications and materials that can have limited options for reproduction. The single color version retains the essence of the primary logo while allowing for a simpler brand application across a variety of options within the color palette.

These single-color options for application of the new logo offer simple and clean solutions.

As with the introduction of any new visual rebrand, a Guidelines for Use document can be a handy tool in preventing brand fragmentation. A 25-page document was created to describe the creative vision and offer guidance to the various internal team members and external resources in implementing the new image. To make the information more engaging and memorable, humorous “easter eggs” were included throughout the publication content.

Humor and pithy comments throughout the Guidelines for Use make it fun and impactful.

Closing Statement.

As sport slowly resumes its prominent role in our everyday lives and the new USADA logo grows its presence in the sporting and anti-doping worlds, the fight for clean sport will continue on. With any luck, by the time the next USADA visual rebranding project comes around, doping and cheating in sport will be just an ugly thing of the past. If so, I’ll be happy to see this logo make way for a whole new concept celebrating that sweet victory!

In the meantime, SBJ will now exit the courtroom and wait patiently for your verdict on the new U.S. Anti-Doping Agency logo. The defense rests.

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