Hail to Pitt! Collegiate Traditions, Modern Rebrand

Read Time: 4 minutes

SEGD member firm Dimensional Innovations is collaborating with the University of Pittsburgh to renovate Pitt’s athletic facilities using updated and refreshed brand elements—logos, colors, and uniforms—designed by Nike. Read on to learn more about the challenges and successes of this multi-year project to modernize Pitt’s sports venues while maintaining collegiate traditions.

Summer is over, classes are in session … and college football is back!

In addition to a return to campus life—and a return to collegiate sports—the beginning of a new school year often brings the unveiling of recently renovated dorms, classrooms and other academic buildings. And the University of Pittsburgh (“Pitt”) is no exception as it continues to implement rebranding throughout its Athletics department’s many facilities. 

In 2017, the University commissioned Nike Global Identity Group (Nike GIG) to update and refresh team logos, colors and athletic apparel for 14 sports programs including football, basketball, soccer, lacrosse, baseball, softball, wrestling and swimming. The challenge: to modernize the Pittsburgh Panthers brand while keeping many of the University’s graphic traditions. These include the “Pitt” logo, rendered in distinctive script, as well as the teams’ blue and gold colors, now “punched up” as Royal Blue and University Gold. 

“At the very beginning of the process, we knew that the Pitt script was sacred,” says Sean Butterly, Art Director with Nike GIG. “There really wasn’t a need to change that. The only real changes to the script are the colors.”

SEGD member firm Dimensional Innovations (DI) then stepped in to take the Pitt Athletics rebranding to the next level by designing and renovating the university’s sports facilities and recruiting offices to reflect the new look and feel.

The biggest design challenge for DI in this process was working with the new brand standards to create a consistent look across multiple venues, while still allowing for design flexibility. It can be a balancing act.

“With any brand, it’s treading that balance between giving each facility a unique identity, while simultaneously being consistent,” says Beau Easley, DI’s Lead Designer on the Pitt project. “Consistency is key, as is using the brand in intentional ways without being boring.”

The design of the Duratz Athletic Complex is one example of creating a unique identity for a particular venue. Inside the facility’s entry lobby, a giant sculpted head of a panther—the university’s mascot—greets visitors. The panther is modeled after an architectural detail from a limestone fountain located outside the University of Pittsburgh’s famous Cathedral of Learning, the 42-story Gothic skyscraper and centerpiece of the university’s main campus.

Carved by hand from hard foam by DI fabricators, and painted to look like stone, the panther has become a photo op sensation for student recruits to the University’s football team. Visitors who enter the space can pose in front of the sculpture as a digital camera (mounted to the ceiling) captures the moment and sends image files directly to the visitors’ cell phones. 

“It’s in the entry lobby, so it’s literally the first thing you see,” says Brian Chenowith, DI Project Manager, about the panther sculpture. “It is an obvious statement piece.”

“This really showcases the breadth of our design capabilities,” adds Drew Berst, Executive Director at DI, about the entry lobby. “You have art, you have traditional graphics, you have digital design, and then you have fabrication installation.”

Another focal point that combines digital technology with design elements which evoke the university’s past is the “H2P Cube” also located inside the Duratz Athletic Complex. H2P is the abbreviated version of the Panthers’ rallying cry “Hail to Pitt” which fans tweet out to their social media followers using #H2P. The “cube” itself is a giant faux-stone block suggestive of the Indiana limestone used to construct many of the buildings on campus. “H2P” is carved on its face in super-sized characters while videos projected onto its surfaces tell the story of life as a Panthers’ football player as narrated by Coach Pat Narozzi.

In the end, the DI design team, including designers Jenn Ross and Adam Muntz lead by Beau Easley, successfully met the challenges of incorporating the new brand elements across seven venues—in a consistent way—while making each design unique to that particular sports team (including the Panthers’ renovated football locker room at Heinz Stadium where the Pittsburgh Steelers also play).

To Beau, a large part of that success included bringing authenticity to the Pitt project.

“We spent a lot of time in Pittsburgh looking at their history, their city and the vibe of it,” says Beau. “They’re transforming like other mid-sized cities, so we tried to capture that authenticity. We talked about ‘authentically Pitt’ quite a lot, and asked ‘what does that look like?’”

Did capturing that authenticity have anything to do with the Panthers’ big win against the UMass Minutemen at this season’s home opener? Perhaps! But what is certain, Pitt fans are enjoying the games and supporting their teams inside the university’s newly rebranded sports venues.

“Hail to Pitt!” (#H2P!)