Thursday, September 20, 2012

Minimalism: Not Just a Word Your Art History Friends Use

Apple generates hype like no other company. There are many websites that pay salaries to writers solely to track down rumors about Apple’s upcoming products. There is a market for rumors a day before the damn product will be announced! I bring this up because it seems that NBA marketing teams are taking cues from Apple. The biggest fervor surrounds the uniforms of the newly minted Brooklyn Nets. We have supposed leaks from video games, leaks from figurines, and leaks from “insider” Twitter accounts.

Now, there isn’t nearly the demand for uniform news for there to exist independent outlets covering it (Paul Lukas be damned), so instead NBA marketing teams are creating it as best they can. The Phoenix Suns have been slowly leaking images of their new court on Twitter (maybe I’m just naive, but who cares what the court looks like?) and the Knicks sent Amar’e Stoudemire to a talk show to unveil their new duds. Perhaps this uniform thing is turning into a big business.

Apple’s embargo and media strategy isn’t the only trend that NBA teams are following. All of Apple’s products are exquisitely designed, without a superfluous part. While design is not as applicable to jerseys, which serve a singular purpose, NBA teams have been following Apple's lead in designing minimalist products. Paul Lukas touched upon minimalism in the designs of the new Spurs and Nets jerseys, but the trend runs much deeper than that. One only needs to look at the jerseys of the Bobcats, Knicks, and Suns, and I bet as more jerseys are leaked we will see other teams embracing it.

The reaction to these jerseys hasn’t been uniformly positive, but everybody seems to be glad that teams are moving further and further away from some of the monstrosities of the late 1990s/early 2000s. Before fans breathe a sigh of relief, I would take a moment to check out the history of the evolution of uniforms, because this isn’t the first time minimalism has been in vogue; many of this year’s uniforms seem like they are paying homage to the mid-1980s/early-1990s jerseys.

Detroit Pistons

Golden State Warriors

The sequences of images above show why I would hesitate to say that uniform designers have embraced minimalism because of its own merits, and instead argue that it is simply a reaction to the uniforms that came before. I mean, while I think we would all acknowledge that the Nuggets uniforms in the 1980s were downright amazing, it is no surprise that the uniform that followed was pretty boring.

For insight into the future, go look at college uniforms, where Oregon has long embraced the wacky.  Lest you think this is only a football thing, the Cincinnati Bearcats vehemently disagree. Given the history of uniforms, I would think that in about five years Nike, Reebook, Adidas, or whoever is supplying NBA uniforms in 2017 will hire a new designer who throws around words like "bold" and "cutting edge". This designer will decide that two-tone jerseys with a city name are boring, and what the NBA needs is just a little bit of color. Maybe he grew up in Toronto in the mid-1990s and has a fetish for cartoons mixed with purple, pinstripes and godawful font. Either way, whether you think uniform minimalism is boring or the high-water mark of design, don't expect it to stick around.

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