What is a Charger? Meet the Designer: Bryan Springer, ’94

Written by Stephanie Gordon

Browse the display cases at the Sports Complex lobby, and Hillsdale Charger athletic artifacts from years past will take you along an evolutionary ride that spans more than 100 years. Charger colors were once crimson and gold. At one point, Hillsdale athletic teams were referred to as “the Dales” and “the Bearcats,” until the student body adopted the Charger mascot in 1968. Different sports teams wore uniforms featuring various shades of blue, ranging from royal to navy. A football jersey was adorned with stars and stripes. The Charger horse mark varied among sports teams. And then there was the lightning bolt. With so many elements, many might wonder, “What is a Charger?”

The College asked this same question in 2019 and agreed an athletic rebrand was necessary. Bryan Springer, ’94, Creative Director for the College’s Marketing Department, took the lead and designed a visual identity that unified the Athletic Department and allowed the College to celebrate a clear identity among all sports teams.

Bryan graduated with an art major and German minor, and went on to Savannah College of Art and Design, receiving his MFA with a concentration in illustration in 1996. During that time, he worked with computers and developed visual artwork. “After getting involved with digital illustration and logo creation, I started page layout for graphic design,” he said. “I knew I could make a living as a graphic designer while pursuing illustration on the side. Little did I know that industries were moving away from handcrafted illustration and going more digital, so I became digital focused.”

In 2005, Bryan returned to the College and worked as an adjunct professor for a watercolor course. In 2008, he became a full-time instructor teaching graphic design. During his teaching years, he regularly freelanced for the College. In 2019, Bryan was hired as Creative Director within the College’s Marketing Department. “After 11 years as an instructor, I didn’t expect to change careers. I thought I would continue to develop my career as a teacher and retire as a professor at Hillsdale College,” said Bryan. “But there was something really exciting about getting back into the driver’s seat where my contributions would be reflected in the success of the Marketing Department and the College at large.”

Bryan knew he wanted to create something that students, alumni, and prospective students would appreciate for the rebrand. For design inspiration, Bryan turned to Aristotle’s idea of living well and aiming toward the good. “To do that, one must develop good habits, or what Aristotle calls ‘virtues,’ said Bryan. “Hillsdale students and athletes alike subject themselves to mental and physical pain every day, all for the greater good of themselves, their families, and their community. This illustrates what good moral character is, and why it’s so important to the development of the whole human being.”

This idea of living well also highlights the importance of athletics in higher education. To Bryan, the College motto says it best, “Virtus tentamine gaudet,” which translates to “strength rejoices in the challenge.” “Hillsdale athletics fosters good character in its student-athletes,” he said. “For this reason, Hillsdale College athletics demands a serious brand identity. I wanted to firmly answer, ‘What is a Charger?’”

To answer his question, Bryan, along with a team of contributors, carefully researched the history of Hillsdale Athletics. During his research, he confirmed that the College’s dominant colors were undoubtedly white and blue. In 2008, the College updated its institutional brand and created the clocktower logo using a blue that sits between royal and navy. This institutional rebrand was an important key while working on the athletic rebrand.

“Royal blue has long been dominant in our history, but since 2008, there have been instances of both royal and navy uniforms. We decided that navy not only was more closely aligned with our institutional brand, but also elevates the athletic brand to a more elegant, classy, and sophisticated brand,” said Bryan.

Bryan looked to the College’s coat of arms for direction when recreating the beloved Charger horse. “There’s so much rich symbolism,” he said. “If you look at the coat of arms, the Charger horse is centered on the very top. It is rearing with its forelegs up, ready for battle. In heraldry, in addition to being a symbol of knighthood, a horse represents speed, intellect, and vigor. In our story, this beautiful, unbridled ‘charger’ communicates the spirit in which our students charge forth with strength to rejoice in the challenges of life. It is this beauty, this seriousness and nobility, that I wanted to incorporate into the athletic identity. These elements tell a rich story that is purely our own as Hillsdale College Chargers.”

He created three variations of the horse: a horse head, used for competition gear, and a half and whole horse for non-competition wear, facilities, and signage. Wanting to preserve the equity in the Charger bolt, he was careful to incorporate the bolt into the mane of the horse. “The bolt is very much a part of our past,” he said. “This is a more direct marriage of two symbols, and if we think about charging, it is the energy that drives one to pursue good of character for the greater good.”

In addition to the horse head, Bryan thought it necessary to develop a series of official wordmarks and spirit marks to complement and enhance the new primary logo mark. “Looking back at our athletics history, it was no surprise to see that block lettering was a huge part of our visual identity,” he said. “We developed a couple of familiar but unique wordmarks for ‘Hillsdale’ and ‘Chargers’ in a particular slab-serif typeface. We also wanted to incorporate some elements of the script typefaces that were found in many of our past uniforms.” Two new, official script wordmarks are now a part of the visual identity system. Although the block “H” is no longer a primary athletics mark, it will remain as an integral part of the overall Hillsdale College identity to be used more widely as a spirit mark.

The coaches had input when it came to uniform design and placement of certain brand elements. “Some chose to work with more traditional graphic elements, while others decided to incorporate more of the new graphic elements aligned with the horse head logo. But all teams will now utilize the dominant white and navy blue,” he said. “We didn’t want to impose overly strict guidelines, but rather we wanted to develop an identity system that would allow for some variety to support creative input from the individual teams. Now, each sport will have its own logo variation.”

Spirit wear is available at BSN Sports, and new merchandise will be available at the College bookstore. “Royal blue will still be a part of our spirit wear in the bookstore, and of course it’s a major part of our history and heritage,” Bryan said. “It just won’t be used in competition gear and official athletic team apparel.”

Hillsdale College endeavors to teach its students to lead their lives in the right direction through education to pursue the good, the true, and the beautiful. As Hillsdale Chargers, we strive to do this with strength, virtue, and energy. “The Charger horse is an allegory for this,” Bryan concluded. “What a lovely image to contemplate—a beautiful, powerful creature charging forth, doing what it’s created to do. To me, that is what a Charger is. We, too, are Chargers. Charge on!”

Stephanie Gordon, a lifelong Hillsdale native, is the managing editor of the Student Stories Blog. She is married to chiropractor, Dr. Matt Gordon, and has three children – Eloise, Flora, and Jack. When she has a spare moment, she enjoys paleo baking, floating on Baw Beese Lake, and breaking a sweat at the gym.

Published in August 2022