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Design Student Quarterbacks a Super Bowl Assignment

Though still just a student, University of Cincinnati graphic design senior Zach Norman has already made first string in his profession. He’s on a co-op right now helping create designs that will be used on site (and visible on television) for the Super Bowl in Detroit on Feb. 5. 

Date: 1/24/2006 12:00:00 AM
By: Mary Reilly
Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: Travis Lee and Paula Vreeke

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Zach Norman, 23, a University of Cincinnati graphic design senior, is tackling a super-sized challenge on his current cooperative education assignment, working for Infinite Scale Design Group (ISDG) in Salt Lake City.

Norman and four of the firm’s professional designers are working as a team, rushing to create and implement all the city, stadium, airport and team hotel graphics – everything from banners to photographic murals to stadium seat cushions as well as football player pictograms and other elements related to the upcoming 40th anniversary of football’s biggest event, Super Bowl XL.

“Because we didn’t know the final two teams playing until now, the design pace is unbelievable,” explained Norman, a native of Pickerington, Ohio. He added, “There are so many team-specific elements – like the cloth and vinyl murals that will cover the team hotels in Detroit. We’ve also created elaborate hanging mobiles and banners that are team specific. We’re doing a two-month job in two weeks, and we had to create twice as many files to account for all the possible match-ups. Speed is imperative, and we each have to be so nimble and flexible in doing all the designs because sizes and placement can change on a moment’s notice.”

Comerica Stadium

The design package also includes graphics for the Tiger’s Comerica Stadium, NFL headquarters, the media center, the team hotels and local businesses as well as Detroit’s city streets and a few venues in Windsor, Ontario. Not that Norman, who is a student in UC’s top-ranked College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP), is complaining. The Super Bowl is the most-watched program in the world, and graphics he’s helping with will be all over the screen. He never would have passed on the chance to contribute to the effort. In fact, he did everything he could to make this design team.

“I was interested in working with the firm ever since two of the partners came to speak at the college in 2003. When it came time to choose where I would spend my final two co-op quarters, I considered all the previous experience I’d gained on co-op. I’d done package design for Procter & Gamble products as well as signage, logos and wayfinding systems for the National Park Service. I’d even designed an award for First Lady Laura Bush on behalf of the park service,” according to Norman.

Media Center designs

He continued, “I had two other offers for co-op jobs, but when I spoke to Amy Lukas (one of the partners at ISDG), she said, ‘We just won the NFL contract to design for the Super Bowl.’ I knew then how lucky I was that I had the chance to come and work for Infinite Scale, and of course, I jumped at the chance.”

Infinite Scale Design Group, though a small firm, has a large amount of experience when it comes to designing for major sporting events. The company was actually born out of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics when its members similarly created banners, skyscraper-sized murals and other designs for the event sites.

Amy Lukas, ISDG partner, explained that Norman is contributing as much as the other designers. While one person might bring an idea to the table, it then becomes the responsibility of everyone to flesh it out and implement it. In particular, Norman has been the key player responsible for the football pictograms that grace the 20-foot pylons at each entrance to Ford Field. These pictograms depict five different player positions: quarterback, kicker, running back, wide receiver and linebacker. 

Zach Norman in the foreground at the computer with Travis Lee in back

Norman is not the first UC co-op student to contribute to such a prestigious project. Another UC co-op, Elise Beckett, also helped, and last year, UC co-op student worked for this super design squad. That student, Travis Lee, was hired by ISDG when he graduated in June 2005. This situation is typical of UC’s celebrated co-op program. Starting at the end of their sophomore year, UC’s design students are required to co-op every other quarter, and so they graduate with about 18 months of professional, paid experience. Because of that, many are able to land jobs immediately upon graduation with their co-op employers or others. That’s typical. National figures show that 95 percent of students who co-op in the U.S. have jobs upon graduation while 60 percent of the country’s co-op students accept jobs from their co-op employers.

Norman actually began working on Super Bowl designs during his summer 2005 co-op when he first worked for ISDG. Then, he came back to school in fall quarter and is now in his final co-op quarter. “The best part,” stated Norman, “is the amount of responsibility that was given to me on my very first day. After lunch on the first day, I basically got started on the pictogram designs even though no one here really knew me. I was instantly accepted, and they really trusted me.”

He also worked on design concepts for key chains, seat cushions, hotel key cards, lanyards, decals, parking passes, street banners and billboards. “Basically,” explained Norman, “I’m helping to design the ‘brand’ for the 40th-anniversary Super Bowl.”

Another project he previously handled for the firm was the complete redesign of  Champions Corridor at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York City. His designs there have already been implemented and were visible during tennis’ 2005 U.S. Open.

Ford Field

All this experience is a great break for Norman, especially considering he chose to attend UC without really checking out the premiere co-op program, which is ranked in the nation’s Top Ten by U.S. News & World Report.

“The academic program was just so strong and well structured that I knew I had to come here,” he said. “This is exactly what I was meant to do. It’s amazing how they prepare you so well for co-op. My co-op employers have routinely asked me, ‘How do you know all this?’ I’d say, ’I’m from UC.’”

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