Thisaway creates a “challenger” identity for the United Rugby Championship
Design studio Bath Thisaway designed the new branding for the United Rugby Championship (URC), one of Europe’s premier rugby union championships.
Founded in 2001, URC (formerly PRO14) is an annual rugby union league, made up of teams from Ireland, Scotland, Italy and Wales. It now includes teams from South Africa, bringing the total number to 16 teams.
Thisaway founder Graeme Cook says the new name – created in collaboration with stakeholders and RCU representatives – hopes to instill a sense of unity. “The idea is that the league will bring together so many teams, cultures and fans in one place for the first time,” he said.
Moving away from a number-based name also allows flexibility for the future if other teams join, according to Cook, as South African teams have done this year. It’s also easy to abbreviate and recognizable, according to the design team’s conversations with broadcasters.
URC’s new lifestyle-inspired logo
The brand’s new positioning is inspired by the “A Different League” concept. “The idea behind this is to show a more challenging mindset that is different from other rugby competitions,” says Cook.
This is reflected in the logo, which avoids many rugby branding tropes of including an H-shaped rugby ball or posts. “We wanted to create a stand-alone brand without immediate reference to rugby,” adds the designer.
It was part of the drive to win over a larger audience and attract new fans to the league, Cook says. Taking inspiration from lifestyle brands, the studio sought to create a logo that could appear on clothing, as sports brands like the New York Yankees did.
The emblem brings together the initials of the league, the “U” forming a shield around the “R” and “C”. It has a “sleek and modern look,” says Cook, while adding that it must be simple enough to sit next to a wide array of team crests.
It’s also linked to the idea of unity, according to the designer. When animated, the “U” can open and close to reveal the names of teams and countries, for example. While this was not a guiding principle, Cook points out that it is made up of five strong parts, one for each nation involved.
Design a “dynamic” typeface
The bespoke typography – designed in collaboration with the Colophon foundry – was to complement the logo. This includes a sans serif typeface that replicates the details of the URC logo, such as the diagonally cut terminal ends of the “c”. Other letters, like the “o”, have details that fit into this aesthetic.
Numbers were also a central concern as they often appeared in the app, for example on score reports.
Cook explains that the RCU’s focus on social media meant that type work had to contain flexibility. A handwritten typeface (URC Hand) was introduced to “add energy and vibrancy to communications,” he says.
In an attempt to avoid an overly uniform look, the studio combined the handwritten font with the sans serif in a weight that alternates between the two styles. Different characters are also available for the handwritten style so that identical letters do not appear next to each other.
A “playful” look for rugby
A series of graphic icons was also created, inspired by the crest of each team. “In a league of 16 super brands, we wanted to recognize each team as part of the larger URC brand,” Cook said.
The designs echo the details of each team, such as the bird wings of the Swansea Ospreys. Others include bull horns for the Vodacom bulls or antlers for the Munster deer crest. They can be used as a complete template or as illustrative elements during promotional cycles or on match day, depending on the creator.
These can also be combined with the player’s photograph to create a “playful” look, Cook explains. In some models, the patterns give the impression that the players themselves have horns or wings, for example. He adds: “We didn’t want it to be too moody and aggressive, which I think is a trap that a lot of rugby brands fall into.”
The championship will launch in September, which will be accompanied by a new rollout of the brand, Cook says. The studio is currently looking to release graphics.
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