The past few years have loaded the Minnesota Vikings’ design staff with work — and the department has increased its headcount accordingly.
Now with Super Bowl LII and the unveiling of a new stadium, practice facility and museum out of the way, the Vikings have deployed the staff in a new way: launching True North Vikings Creative, an in-house creative agency.
Led by Executive Director of Brand and Creative Erin Swartz, there was a realization the department can do more with its newly found excess time. The team has yet to dabble much beyond the organizational football needs, except for projects with the Minnesota Super Bowl Host Committee.
“We’re just getting started, because we want to be really careful and not get too far past our comfort level,” Swartz said. “Our first priority is to serve the Vikings in a way we need to. It’s hard to be overstaffed; there’s always a new project, but we’re finding out how to create balance and prioritize the projects in-house and outside. It’ll be a challenge, but we’re excited.”
The team was slowly assembled over Swartz’s 12 years with the organization as the large projects and added demand on the design staff mounted. Eventually in the process of the major facility projects, the design team was brought in to incorporate the Vikings’ brand within the plans. For the practice facility, the TCO Performance Center, the design team was invited into the design process early with the facility’s architect, Crawford Architects.
Within the process, the designers worked on what stories needed to be told in what places and what materials to use where. She also said it was important to implement the team’s philosophical pillars: Relentless, Unifying and Innovative. The front part of the facility was targeted as unifying, places meant to be open to the community as well as the players. Near the locker room and weight room, the tenet of relentless was implemented with a sharper purple and more rock and stone materials. And in the office area, the designers went with a more white and silver, sleek and clean look.
“From the beginning, we talked about the brand of this building, how it looks and what stories we need to tell in an effective way,” Swartz said. “We put together a spreadsheet of 142 unique art projects and we just started cranking them out. It was a fun second job for about a year, but we’re thrilled to move on.”
With a workload returning to relatively normal levels, Swartz said the Vikings’ leadership saw the value that an in-house creative agency could provide other teams and community assets.
“The process to even build a stadium is a once-in-a-career project and often a highlight, and when you’re in it, you want to go to someone who’s done it before,” she said. “Now that we’ve gone through the project, leadership is thinking how we can use that trial and error to help others.”
True North Vikings Creative has a creative manager overseeing operations, six graphic designers, a project coordinator and a marketing coordinator. They all have their own strengths, but Swartz said everyone has a chance to do every task.
“No one is specialized,” she said. “We can flex our muscles depending on the projects. One might be better suited for animations or environmental design or publications, but it allows these guys to practice and try, test and get better.”
As the creative agency develops, Swartz said more details of the operation will be ironed out, including whether the design department will be separating or staying together.
“We’re starting out small. We don’t want to get over our skis, but if there’s a team or company in sports or entertainment that is interested in our branding and design, we feel we can have insight and share.”