Matty Merrill, design director for Adidas Hockey, was tired of his laptop heating up sitting on the passenger seat on his commute from work, just hoping he could get a National Hockey League (NHL) jersey design rendered before he reached home.
Those days are over for Merrill and the rest of the design team at the Adidas North American Headquarters in Portland, Oregon.
Using a combination of technology and speed, the design team has not only created a new paradigm for NHL teams to view and interact in jersey creation, but also a fresh process for the Adidas Hockey design team to make it happen, cutting down time from design-to-product and increasing customer satisfaction.
The first simple step included moving rendering services to the in-house server, freeing up space on Merrill’s laptop and keeping it humming along quickly. But where the quickness really took shape was in the way Merrill interacted with teams.
Designing a NHL sweater must balance tradition with forward-thinking trends. The Adizero uniform, the lightest jersey Adidas has made, comes with plenty of durability. But making it perform better — articulated sleeves add curve so it doesn’t bunch around the player’s glove, for example — brings up design challenges, such as some sleeve stripes now requiring seven different pieces to make them come together properly.
The Adidas team uses 3D modeling to create patterns, solving for issues on the fly. With the help of CLO, a fashion modeling program, “we were able to see before we sent to the factory how the stripes were going to work,” Merrill says. “We found new ideas in that process as well.”
With CLO allowing the design team to see 3D models of tweaks and concepts as they happen, Merrill brought that into conversations with individual NHL teams. He was able to draft ideas while they talked. Using a collaborative password-protected website, teams can log on and see the progress of their uniform designs, whether when on the phone with Merrill making changes or at any point 24/7.
All the new tools remove the idea of creating a deck, sending it the league, walking them through the PDF on a call and then gaining approval. Now with rendering on the fly, Merrill says he makes ideas come to life right in front of their eyes. “That is something a league would never trust with a partner in the past,” he says. “Now they do.”
Using the website, teams can see mood boards, colors and drawings live on the site weeks before a scheduled phone call.
Taking the 3D modeling a step further, the Adidas virtual reality team created an environment to show off uniforms, a perfect way to highlight potential new designs to teams or league executives when in face-to-face meetings. The technology allows designers to create a full-size rending of the design, place it on an athlete and, with virtual reality, let people walk around the player to see how the stripes work, how the number sizes fit and how the colors mesh. The process also helps designers get a feel for the true size and scope of a project.
“One of the benefits of Adidas is we are a big company,” Merrill says. “There is a lot of R&D, digital creation, VR experience and forward thinking. There are a lot of tools that allow us to work really quickly. We have done things on calls with the NHL that has really surprised people.”
“We are hearing back from leagues and teams about how we are working while they are asleep,” says Nic Corbett, director of NHL relations for Adidas Hockey. “Matty’s team is obsessing about the design and the product. That is the expectation and that is what we are here for.”
The software tools provide deep information on fit. By putting the garment’s specs into the system and loading it on a scanned model of an athlete, his team can change the fit and pattern and see the result in real time. Building in actual size, the program kicks out beautiful 3D renderings. Then, adding another level of speed to the process, the same document used to create presentations is the one handed over to factories for production. No longer are precise and complicated measurements needed to, for example, explain exactly where the numbers on the jersey go. Now that info comes loaded into the document.
“Not only are the pictures prettier, but your first sample is going to be accurate much more frequently,” Merrill says. And with each sample review taking four months, that means any cutting of samples can eliminate months of lead time from design to product.
Using these tools, Adidas has created a new language around NHL designs. From fresh perspectives on the league’s main franchises, such as its Winter Classic outdoor game, Stadium Series events of even All-Star. Adidas is working with each team to ensure that 2019 gives teams a new third jersey to help tell a story. But the most innovative idea came when Adidas and EA Sports collaborated for a “Digital 6” production.
This is where Merrill’s team — from a NHL uniform designer with 20 years of experience to a 20-something female designer who grew up playing hockey in Connecticut — had fun giving the six original NHL franchises a completely new look available only inside the sport’s most popular video game.
With the NHL and the teams fully on board with the project, the design team created new looks for a game using the same process needed for a real uniform creation. “If I needed to sew them, I would be able to sew the jersey together,” Merrill says.
Merrill says the EA collaboration — a non-transactional partnership between Adidas and EA Sports — was a great exercise for his team, but also proved important for the six franchises. “They are the oldest franchises, the most historic,” he says. “They don’t change their jerseys lightly. This is a big deal and it was very liberating for them. It was like opening the fourth dimension in the design brain of what we could do for a team.”
As Corbett says, the EA project was the type of work that created a more legitimate dialogue with the Adidas Hockey design team and the NHL teams. “We are not doing costumes, but creating uniforms,” he says. “Anybody can have fun with crayons, but we were doing it in a meaningful way.”
That meaning comes with a new level of speed and creativity for the design team at Adidas Hockey.
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