The Inside Story Behind The Milwaukee Bucks’ New Look

The path to a designer’s dream job began with a simple business decision: He was nice to the intern. 

At halftime last night, the Milwaukee Bucks unveiled a new look—four new logos, including an angular and intimidating buck to replace the team’s old Rudolph-looking doodle. It’s a big statement for a once-lousy team with sudden playoff potential. But its roots date back to the mid-2000s, when a designer named Kimou Meyer made one of the most important decisions anyone can make in business: He was nice to the intern.

Always be nice to the intern.

Back then, Meyer was the creative director at a skateboard company called Zoo York. The intern was a kid named Scott Williams. “Very cool kid,” Meyer remembers. Many years later, in December of 2013, they ran into each other at a Brooklyn Nets game. By this point, Meyer had left Zoo York to co-found his own design firm, Doubleday & Cartwright, and had done some work with Nike, LeBron James, and Carmelo Anthony. The two got talking about design, and Williams, the old intern, asked Meyer what his dream job would be. “I said, ‘I’d love to do an NBA logo,’” Meyer said. But it was just chitchat.

Six months pass, and Meyer got an email from Williams: “Hey, I have an interesting project related to basketball,” he wrote. “Are you able to talk?”

A few days later, in June of 2014, they got on the phone. Williams, it turns out, now worked for a hedge fund billionaire named Marc Lasry, and was high-school pals with Lasry’s son Alex. Marc Lasry and a partner had just purchased the Milwaukee Bucks for $550 million. Marc had made his son Alex the team’s VP of strategy and operations, and one of his first orders of business was giving the team a new look. But it takes a long time to roll that out across the NBA—there’s merchandise and signage to change, for example—and the NBA gave them a tight deadline: If they wanted something new for the 2015-2016 season, they needed new logos in about a month and a half.

The old intern recommended his old boss. And that’s how the new owners of the Bucks turned to this little design firm in Brooklyn. “I pretty much stopped everything for a month—all the other client work I was doing,” Meyer says.

The Bucks’ request was unusual, Meyer says. Most sports briefs ask for something very modern—something aggressively now. The Bucks asked for something timeless, that plays off the team’s deep roots in Milwaukee. In particular, that meant getting rid of anything in the team’s look that wasn’t local. For example: Why was there red in the old logos and uniforms? There’s nothing red about Milwaukee.

Meyer loved hearing that. “I’m thinking that the mark must still look good when I’m 80, and I tell my grandkids that I did this 40 years go,” he says. “If people at first glance say, ‘That looks kind of plain and boring,’ usually for me that’s a good compliment. If it’s not over the top, I know it will last in time.” Consider the Bulls logo, he says, and forget about its epic history with Michael Jordan. On its own, it looks so 1970s. The Bulls lucked out, building a dynasty that overcomes its dated logo. Not every team will be so fortunate.

Meyer’s team got to work, sketching out the most important new Bucks logo—the main one, with the buck looking straight ahead. Here are some of their sketches:

“For a few days, we just looked at deer photos. We drew a 100 deer,” Meyer said. “Some looked like a goat, some looked like a crazy dog. It’s a hard animal to have the right posture. But once we got some kind of grip and were happy with it, we started to tweak.”

“The main ask was, ‘How much can we make that deer more proud, tougher, that looks more focused?’”

The final version is full of meaning. It’s cream—the only NBA team with a cream cue—because Milwaukee was once known as Cream City (for the color of bricks made from local clay). The green calls to Wisconsin’s woods, and also calls back to the team’s traditional color. And it’s full of meaning, annotated here:

1. The space up there is bigger than the space in the old logo, because the team’s buck has matured. It’s bigger, and its rack is bigger too.

2. There’s a basketball in there. In their original sketches, you can see the designers playing around with how obvious the basketball should be. Their final decision was to go subtler. It’s a basketball team. We all know that. No need to shout it.

3. The bucks’ neck makes an M, for Milwaukee.

4. The new font is supposed to look like it was cut from metal—a shout-out to a city with a long industrial past.

Doubleday & Cartwright also made three secondary logos for the team to use:

Within a month of the assignment, Meyer and his team presented the new look to the Bucks. The team was happy and passed it along to the NBA for approval, which also gave its blessing. About a month of little tweaks followed. The final files were delivered to the Bucks on September 10.

And then began the long wait until yesterday, when the public finally got a look.