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The beautiful game, a beautiful jersey, and the value of taking design risks

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Ahead of this summer’s massive soccer tournament, Nike and Nigeria made a huge decision that led them becoming the talk of the world before a ball had even been kicked for the cup. Nigeria, one of the big underdogs, decided to take a massive risk with the design of their uniforms ahead of a month-long sporting event that can draw over three billion (with a “B”) people over the course of the competition and over one billion viewers for the final game alone.

In soccer, uniform design is often subject to tradition convincing a team to change their colors or motifs is virtually impossible. It would be very difficult to imagine Brazil playing without their normal canary yellow tops or Argentina without their sky blue and white stripes. Nigeria’s primary uniforms have experimented with color and pattern in the past but over the last two decades, they have almost consistently been solid green and varying only between a few shades of that color. The new design threw that right now.

For this tournament, the designer at Nike decided to go with a vibrant green and white pattern for the body inspired by the team’s past, recalling a look from 1994, with the same pattern continuing onto the shoulders. It’s a bold and bright look that did something very different and became a phenomenon as soon as it was unveiled. Minutes after it went on sale, the shirt sold out in brick-and-mortar stores complete with lines out the door and around the block as well as at online retailers around the world. Some estimates listed the shirt as having three million preorders, which is more jerseys than Manchester United sold the entire year before. That number, however, is difficult to prove but even without it, the success of the design cannot be understated.

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What made this particular shirt such a runaway success? Simply put, it was the design. Something new and fresh caught the eye of not just Nigeria fans but of fans of the sport in general. It broke traditional lines and created something with mass appeal just by being well designed and a bit out there. What’s more is that everyone involved enjoyed the project. In an interview about the jersey, Nike’s design director, when asked whether this design was the most difficult to do, responded like this:

Nigeria was actually the easiest! That’s everyone having fun. We worked closer with the players and the Nigerian federation to make that happen. The hardest were Brazil and England, just like always. It’s got to be a yellow kit and a white kit, respectively. You have to deliver that.

Ultimately, Nigeria didn’t make it out of the group stage in this year’s tournament but it’s clear that their look has left a lasting impression.

So what does this all have to do with staffing? Nigeria and Nike’s willingness to take a design risk paid off in the best way possible. When working on staffing projects, taking similar risks on layout, color, and imagery can pay off big. The most memorable websites, print pieces, and social images are the ones that break the norms. Is that one image of “staffing professionals in office setting” or that other image of “business leadership concept” really memorable to you, the viewer? Does it stand out for you?

As we try to get away from the traditional “stock” photo style of image, your ever-present handshake photo or the famously awkward four-way high-five photo that we all know and dislike, perhaps it is time to do the same with more of the design and imagery that we see with so many pieces in our industry. In order to stand out, stay top-of-mind, and sell more, it’s more important now than ever before to try something new and to do it with style.

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