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Rare Design running

Firm helps teams, companies connect with fans, customers

Hattiesburg — Rare Design has created logos and identities for sports teams and businesses in Mississippi and around the country, from the Petal Panthers and the Southern Miss Golden Eagles to the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies, from Hattiesburg’s Forrest General Hospital and Jackson’s Methodist Rehabilitation Center to Home Depot, Nike, Adidas and Reebok.

Rodney Richardson, Rare Design’s president and creative director, graduated from the University of Southern Mississippi (USM) with a degree in graphic design and went to work for Nike, where he was a senior designer and global leader for Nike team sports basketball. In addition, he also oversaw the development of such NBA identities as Dallas, Miami, Los Angeles, Toronto and Portland.

“My wife and I were living in Oregon and I was marketing basketball apparel all over the world,” Richardson said. “But I got tired of living that way, and then we had our first child.”

Richardson and his wife are from McComb and have family in the Hattiesburg area. They wanted to live closer to home so that their children could grow up near family.

“We looked around the Southeast but nothing resonated. So we decided on Hattiesburg and I opened Rare Design in 1999.”

Richardson said that he gets most of his clients by word of mouth and by building on existing relationships. But from time to time, he targets three to five clients and goes after them.

With a new client, Rare Design first has extensive meetings to explore what the client expects from the firm and to tell the client what to expect, “to get us on the same page.”

“We then research what is the philosophy of this organization or team, find their philosophical identity, what defines them, sets them apart.”

The next step, if the client happens to be a sports team, is to come up with not just an animal for a logo, but to put a face on the team, the organization. The designers use means as old as pencil, pen and paint and as new as computer-generated design.

The goal is not just to create the isolated logo but to provide the client with an identification, to brand the design, to prepare it for placement on sporting goods, apparel, mugs, banners, promotional material and a host of other uses.

“We then communicate this identity to the client,” Richardson said. “We establish brand guidelines so that every vendor can follow the guidelines because they have all the rules and regulations.”

How it works

The USM logo and branding shows how this works.
Rare Design and the USM athletic department conducted several phases of the process for almost a year. The process included research, focus groups, defining and refining the look and completing the look with accompanying typefaces and supporting marks.

Looking at the history of the university and the athletic department began the process. Then, Rare Design studied graphic directions, color stories and the extension of possible logos into supporting graphics. These possibilities were tested in focus groups and this led to changes in direction and images.

Richardson mentioned a comment by football coach Jeff Bower: “Character, heart, courage…define what Southern Miss football is all about.”

“We knew that we had to capture those words in our brand,” Richardson said.

He emphasized that, “Too often, team identity design focuses on the marketing aspect of the game rather than the team, athletes and sports themselves. People don’t rally behind a logo. They rally behind the ideas that logo should represent in a clear, concise way. An identity is not about creating a graphic, it’s understanding the story that makes Southern Miss athletics unique.”

“The work that Rare Design did with the athletic brand works hand-in-hand with what we are doing to establish a brand for the entire university,” according to Danny Mitchell, CEO of GodwinGroup, a full-service marketing and public relations firm based in Jackson.

What Richardson and his team gave USM was a new golden eagle with a sleek, more modern, fierce look and USM officials could not have been more satisfied.

Richard Giannini, athletic director, said, “We’re thrilled with the outcome. The new mark is truly our own and provides us with a distinctive look.”

When Richardson opened Rare Design five years ago, he chose a location in the Historic Hattiesburg Business District.

“I love it downtown. My first job was in a small design shop downtown. We’re a creative agency, and I love the creative energy downtown, love walking around, the people, the shops, the architecture.”

Rare Design was first located on Front Street but recently moved to a building on Main Street.
For the foreseeable future, Richardson sees Rare Design pretty much continuing as it is, “Set up to run lean and mean.” There are a couple of big contracts on the near horizon, he indicated.

Richardson has two graphic designers working with him, Joni Dunbar and Jeremy Smith. He said that he’s now looking for a senior level designer to join the firm.

“That’s one disadvantage to being located here,” he said. “Because of Southern, I can get entry-level designers. But it can be difficult to recruit experienced people.”

For the design business in general, Richardson believes that designers have to get smarter in both traditional and alternative media.

“People don’t like advertising,” Richardson said. “Advertising interferes with their lives. Ads have to mean something to people if they’re expected to pay attention to them. They have to connect.”

Making customers connect has been a large part of making Rare Design successful. Since Richardson and his team created a new design for the Memphis Grizzlies, sales of the team’s apparel and other merchandise has increased steadily. The team is selling more per day now than it sold per month last year.

Contact MBJ contributing writer at George McNeill at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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