Each season, the Thunder creative team is presented with a much-discussed challenge to celebrate the team and inspire the fanbase by creating visual elements to support the vision.

By Jimmy Do | okcthunder.com

Its location is fitting, given the level of activity surrounding the immediate area.

Towering high above the colorful Oklahoma City Streetcars that make their way along Thunder Drive and the downtown area, yet sitting below the four construction cranes that operate in unison above the neighboring skyline, the one-word billboard packed with attitude and energy carefully illustrates the mindset the Thunder marketing team wanted to establish for the 2018-19 NBA season: IGNITE.

The six letters are emblazoned on a slate gray backdrop in stark, bold white type. Sweeping slashes of Thunder blue, navy and sunset strike upward and onward like flashes in the sky. The 60-foot tall billboard is one of three in the Oklahoma City metro area. The other two are equally energetic and direct: EXPERIENCE EPIC.

In Year 11 of Thunder Basketball, simplicity reigns as the creative touchstone.

The road to implementation, however, is anything but.


The concept of forward momentum and constant progress are drivers of determining this season's design elements. It is fuel for the Thunder aesthetic in the pursuit of reaching iconic status like what the Logoman did for the NBA or the instant recognition of Jordan Brand's Jumpman.

Like an upward cascade in the team's color palette, the forward slashes convey a sense of movement, speed and depth. They are placed on a clean canvas to fall in line with the minimalist ethos. The primary use of angled shapes and white space allow the versatility for the brand to adapt and evolve.

"Given our strong foundation, we believe our brand strategy can further reflect the progressive, innovative and optimistic values of our community."

-Brian Byrnes, Thunder senior vice president of sales and marketing.

The planning process starts a year in advance. Surveying the landscape from other brands and industries, a series of creative workshops and brainstorming sessions pave the road to spark inspiration.

A team of talented artists and visionaries make up the collective invisible machine that brings the Thunder to life. The creative team that reports to the director of marketing and brand management, Dawn Turner, is tasked with crafting the visual elements behind the vision.

Playing a major role in creating this season's billboard campaign, senior graphic designer Krystal Jones clicks through the various mockups flashing on the large glowing screen of her monitor.

At the click of a mouse, she delivers a tour of the genesis of the IGNITE billboard from concept to production. That one word set the tone for the rest of the campaign.

Senior graphic designer Krystal Jones prepares one of her three billboard designs for print. The final product can be seen under the cranes that hover near Chesapeake Energy Arena.

"IGNITE fueled the inspiration we're looking for in fans and our community moving into the season." she said.

"Concepting can take many forms of exploration, so it's important to think abstract and allow the creative juices to flow in from all angles," Jones said. "With several design options, it is then easy to start funneling down and formulate the vision and message on its creative platform."

Soon enough, her face lit up. The final design draft of the billboard that landed pay dirt appears on her screen.

"We wanted to step into this season exploring new ways to communicate what this new era feels like to the brand, the fans and the community," she said. "The key expressing elements featured on the billboard such as the forward slashes, font and background are all part of this new era of transformation. Everything you see is very intentional."


On any given night, graphic design services manager Brandon Ankney can be seen darting his eyes back-and-forth between the multiple-screen setup at his desk when the entire office has left, often reviewing or tweaking a Photoshop file for one last time before it heads to press.

Graphic Design Services manager Brandon Ankney, left, outlines a series of projects and deadlines with team members Micah Fryslie, Krystal Jones, Robert Poulain and Ryan Stamps.

Ankney is the creative lead, working with Turner to oversee all visual projects on top of protecting brand guidelines. Together, they have watched the Thunder brand evolve from a startup mentality into a much more intentional process.

"The first decade saw the birth of the Thunder brand that helped create the foundation for a solid fanbase," Turner said. "As we move into the second decade we see an opportunity to build on this foundation in a way that continues to reflect the great optimism and progressive outlook of our city and state."

Soon enough, the drop shadows were dropped and minimalism starts to take hold. Vibrant visuals are part of the Thunder experience, not just for decoration.
"You can look at all of the season campaigns over the years and see the intentionality behind the design," Ankney said. "All of the elements lead from one season to another."

For instance, each spring, the Thunder organization shifts into high gear to match the high stakes and excitement of postseason play. Standing head-to-toe, larger-than-life player graphics will soon blanket the Cox Convention Center building across the Reno Avenue. Splashy vector artwork drapes the nearby Marriott building on EK Gaylord.

The marketing team's passion for storytelling drives the aesthetic magic seen inside and out of Chesapeake Energy Arena, around street corners and across screens.

"Every fan touchpoint from Season Ticket Member boxes to billboards and social media to in-arena graphics are intentionally designed so there is a cohesive look and feel across all platforms," Turner said. "We view the visual expression of the brand as a never-ending continuum that is threaded from season to season, including regular season to postseason."

Graphics designer Robert Poulain stands in front of the window design he created last summer.

While the action on the court delivers the music, the creative braintrust of the Thunder determines the album cover complete with linear notes and track list. New season are like anticipated releases introducing new sounds without abandoning the band's hit-making sensibilities or identity.

And that's the Thunder blueprint.

While the devil is in the details of producing any effective design, campaign and brand, consistency is still king.

For Ankney, breeding familiarity is part of the process in communicating more with less.

"We use these elements to introduce new components to our brand while keeping some familiar threads so the brand is recognizable to our campaign," he said. "These new elements could be something as simple as hinting to something exciting coming down the road. The goal is for the viewer to see a graphic and will know it comes from the Thunder without needing to see the logo. We tell the visual narrative by using familiar and established brand components to give us opportunities to introduce new elements. The overall goal is to keep it fresh, but keep it familiar."


Across Section 103-104 in the main concourse, the Thunder Cares mural has the tagline "Committed to Our Community" that pops in yellow.

A Thunder Girl and a woman share tears of joy in an embrace. Another image shows Rumble the Bison in a Santa outfit posing for smiles. There is a group of beaming kids holding up books in front of the Rolling Thunder Book Bus.

The DNA of the Thunder organization was built on moments like these. It is not only a reflection of the franchise's labor of love for the community, but the foundation of the Thunder brand.

"One of the primary influences with managing a comprehensive brand strategy is to drive value in the emotional and authentic connectivity we have with our fans," said Brian Byrnes, Thunder senior vice president of sales and marketing.

And that unique connection with the fans is rooted from the Thunder organization's work and leadership in the community since day one. The symbiotic relationship between the Thunder and the community is defined by a compelling story of resiliency on multiple fronts.

In 2008, the arrival of Thunder Basketball signaled the beginning of a renaissance for Oklahoma City. For instance, the long-awaited grand opening of the OKC Streetcar ribbon cutting this past December represents the benchmark of progress for the city.

Once a sleepy metropolis fraught with the universal perception of tragedy, OKC is today an economic and cultural force to be reckoned with.

"The opportunity to reflect on our past 10 years was an important catalyst for how we evolve our brand positioning going forward. We are humbled by how well supported our team is and how significant our impact has been on Oklahoma," Byrnes said. "Given our strong foundation, we believe our brand strategy can further reflect the progressive, innovative and optimistic values of our community."

For more behind-the-scenes stories, pick up your copy of Thunder Magazine Vol. 11 No. 1. Now available at the Thunder Shop.


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