Lasting images are not always the ones conceived by graphic designers.
In the case of last year's Super Bowl, the signature image was not the logo -- an oval sphere with Saturnesque rings that was slickly designed in honor of the host city, Houston, and its space center. The best corporate design studio could not have attracted more attention than the halftime visual of Janet Jackson doing a punk version of Delacroix's classic Marianne.
The team that created eye-catching graphics for the Salt Lake City Games used a similar approach in making street banners hung on lampposts throughout Jacksonville.
(Lisa Marie Miller - Infinite Scale Design Group)
This year, the NFL seems determined to move on. For tomorrow's Super Bowl XXXIX in Jacksonville, Fla., the NFL has chosen an accommodating theme -- "building bridges" -- and hired a group of outside designers known as the Look Team.
Molly Mazzolini, a principal of the lead design firm, Infinite Scale Design Group of Salt Lake City, says openly that "last year's fiasco led the NFL to seek outside help."
"A lot of sponsors were upset," she said. "What the NFL is trying to do is be more family-oriented."
Images of works-in-progress indicate every effort was being made to assure a sunny, wind-in-your-sails ambiance, despite cold and rain in the Jacksonville area earlier this week.
As for the bridge-building, no one expects Patriots and Eagles to extend any helping hands before the clock runs out. According to the Look Team, bridges to the community, bridges across generations (Paul McCartney is the only halftime performer) and bridges to last year's offended viewers are what matter.
The NFL says the inspiration came directly from the bridges of Jacksonville, which is dominated by seven river crossings. But the organization also recognizes the power of a metaphor.
"We bridge things," said Michael Capiraso, the NFL's vice president and executive creative director. "We bring people together to watch our game. More than most things right now, the game brings people together."
Millions will be watching, which puts a lot of pressure on the graphics. Bridges are central to the omnipresent logo, which was designed in-house by NFL art director Shandon Melvin. The Roman numerals that dominate each of the championship game logos serve here as pylons for the words "Super Bowl." There's a decorative structure, but nothing to rival the majestic towers of the Brooklyn Bridge or the kind of poetic spans that contemporary architect Santiago Calatrava designs. The bridge is done in Florida orange, against a sea of dark blue.
The rest of the graphic presentation comes from the Look Team. The consortium of five companies started with Infinite Scale Design Group and Vision International, also of Salt Lake City. The two came together to produce high-energy graphics for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games. Super-size images of skaters and downhill racers graced facades ranging from skyscrapers and stadiums to buses.
In Jacksonville, the team has installed more than 4,000 graphic images -- and 4,000 bridge logos. The signage greets arrivals at the airport and leads visitors down city streets and into hotel lobbies. Exceptional winds have not kept installers from hanging banners and flags. A 30-foot-tall aluminum scaffold has been constructed at Alltel Stadium, the site of the game. By tomorrow, it will be sheathed in silvery metallic fabric to simulate the event's Tiffany-designed Vince Lombardi Trophy.
Cruise ships were to become part of the design experience. But Gene Chambers, vice president of Vision International, which prints the extra-large digital images, said that funds ran short.
The Look Team's winning contribution is a motif of blue and red swaths across banners and insignia. The bands of color are supposed to represent ocean waves and the sun's rays. In place of the dynamic photos of athletes that made the Winter Olympics graphics pop, the Super Bowl gets caricatures of players in motion. Time constraints and licensing deals prevented the designers from incorporating their signature photography into the Super Bowl job.
Symbolic ideas sometimes make better talking points than visuals. The Adam's Mark Hotel, the NFL's temporary headquarters, has been hung with a 90-foot banner on which signage, typography and symbolism compete for attention against a dismal backdrop of bland architecture. The hotel logo competes with the Super Bowl logo, which looks like a flying saucer headed for a landing next to limos in a driveway.
But even at their best, graphics can only do so much.
Infinite Scale's Web site takes note of the undeniably dynamic photographs that "separated the 2002 Look program from any previous Olympic program." But the Salt Lake Games were marked by a figure-skating scandal and an investigation into how the city got the Games in the first place. Ten members of the International Olympic Committee were expelled or forced to resign for receiving improper inducements from boosters of Salt Lake's bid. Pairs figure-skating has not yet recovered from the judging debacle that awarded a gold medal to two Russian skaters over a Canadian couple -- who were later honored with a duplicate gold.
Scandal never makes for a pretty picture. But it's always memorable.