Isle native tackles NFL,
has designs on hockey
The former Kauai man findsBy Rod Ohira
success designing logos and uniforms
for top professional sports teams
Kauai native Kurt Osaki, who made it to the Pro Bowl this year, is a rising star in the National Football League.
But don't look for his name on any team roster.
The 32-year-old Kapaa High School graduate is a graphic designer whose signature works include the new logos and uniforms of the San Francisco 49ers, Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Oilers and New York Jets.
He also has designed logos and uniforms for the National Hockey League All-Star game.
"I've always liked doing creative stuff," said Osaki, who now lives in the Bay Area. "In graphic design, you're creating someone's image, so it's always challenging.
"The logos and uniforms project an attitude, an image about the city and people."
Updating the 49ers' logo and uniform, for example, presented a challenge for Osaki, who went on from Kapaa to graduate from the University of Hawaii and the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.
"The tough thing was there was nothing wrong with what they had," Osaki said.
"We thought they portrayed the class of the organization and city, so we tried to bring it out by using white pants, the black shadow on the numbers, cardinal instead of candy-apple red and adding more gold.
"We cleaned up the logo and made it more oval with gold inside."
Osaki and his partner, Rob Kawamura, a San Jose native whom he met at the University of Hawaii, work closely with Hawaii-born Rhonda Kim, design director for National Football League Properties.
Kawamura handles research, while Osaki and Kim work on design. NFL Properties oversees all projects involving league members.
"Kurt's made some major contributions," said Kim, a Hawaiian Mission Academy graduate from Kailua who moved to New York to work for NFL Properties five years ago. "His work is very bold."
Kim, who also graduated from the Art Center College of Design, was looking for designers to work on expansion team projects when a mutual friend suggested Osaki.
Kim and Osaki enjoyed a good working relationship from the start.
"Kurt brings sports and design knowledge to the job, and that's a great combination," said Kim. "We're under deadline pressure all the time. His approach and attitude make him a good person to work with."
Osaki, who lettered in football at Kapaa High, says it's challenging to be working on designs of teams he has followed as a fan.
"I like the traditional look rather than the flashy (National Basketball Association) look," said Osaki, who's currently working on a presentation for next year's Super Bowl.
For the 1998 Pro Bowl, Osaki's jersey design featured traditional striping and pineapple logo. He also added a team logo to the uniform, identifying each player with his own team.
Merchandise sales has become a profitable arm of professional sports, and change is part of the trend.
"The public is demanding this," Osaki said. "But the danger of changing too much and too often is that you lose identity."
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' new logo and uniform were a big hit last season as the club moved from No. 30 to No. 14 in NFL merchandise sales, says Osaki.
"All they told us at the start was stay away from black and silver and the skull and crossbones because that was the (Oakland) Raiders," Osaki said.
"We knew that red was going to be a part of (the Bucs') logo since our research showed that pirates flew a red flag that meant no mercy, or death, when they attacked. We wanted to bring out that attitude. Pirates used the black flag more as a warning."
The Bucs' logo features a flag attached to a sword. The new color scheme blends red, black, orange and pewter.
"We were looking for a different color and came up with pewter because the buccaneers were well-known for making knives, and it's that dark steel color," Osaki said.
The NFL is keeping Osaki busy.
"We're in the top five in terms of volume," Osaki said. "But there's a lot of pressure and competition, and we don't get any royalties."
Osaki recently turned the pages back to the "Broadway" Joe Namath era in designing new uniforms and logos for the New York Jets. Jets spokesman Doug Miller says reaction to the changes has been positive.
"It was something our fans wanted, and the identity is to a winning era of the Jets," Miller said.
Osaki says most NFL projects take about eight months to complete. The Tampa Bay effort, however, took 9-12 months.
"For designers, it's wide open as far as creative freedom," he said. "But you're also dealing with the clubs and NFL Properties.
"The league is very sensitive to certain colors that are associated with gangs and violence. So there's a lot of scoping sessions before we even start designing."
Osaki is looking to branch out. "We're trying to get into major league baseball and the NBA, but it's tough," Osaki said. "And I'd really want to do something for the University of Hawaii."