Designed to Change

Al Grivetti was a graduate student at Northern Illinois University in 1990 when he got a dream assignment: Design a new logo for the Big Ten Conference, whose membership was about to increase to 11 institutions. With two brilliant strokes—spelling out the “Ten” to play down the numeral, and adding a subliminal “11″—he created a logo that has lasted 20 years.

Mr. Grivetti, now an emeritus professor of graphic design at Clarke College, could be getting another call soon, as the league voted to welcome Nebraska as its 12th member, with possibly more to come. We asked him how officials from the Big Ten and other expanding conferences might alter their names and logos in coming months.

Q. Did the Big Ten consider changing its name when it added an 11th team?

A. We looked back to see what other historical names may have been used, but we didn’t really dwell on that because it didn’t seem to have the same appeal. [The conference was originally known as the Western Conference and was later called the Big Nine.]

Q. Will it resist a name change again?

A. They certainly have a lot invested in it. A lot of alums know and understand its significance—it’s the oldest [Division I] conference. And now they have the Big Ten Network.

Q. But will leagues stop emphasizing their numbers so much?

A. Most are still very dependent on the number, with some kind of a representation. The Pac-10 has their banners, for instance—but they could get away from that because I think historically the number was a big deal, but now it’s irrelevant.

Q. How do you see the designs changing?

A. You might see more [conferences] start to use a generic symbol like corporations have done. For example, Lucent has a swirled red circle. You’ve got something that’s abstract, that doesn’t have any literal, direct meaning … but suggests that things ebb and flow. Schools could come and go, but the mark would stay the same. The only downside is that it costs money to introduce a new logo.

Q. How might you redesign the Big Ten’s logo if you had the chance again?

A. When they went to 11 [members], I actually gave them a 12 and a 13.

Q. How’d they respond?

A. I think they thought that was humorous at that particular time. … But I would be honored to design a new logo for them. It put me on the map.

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