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Hirasaki and Osaki

The friends behind the big H

by Heidi Sakuma
Two men, festooned with leis, stand beside an easel holding the new logo

Like many college friends, Kurt Osaki, right, and Craig Hirasaki found that their paths diverged after graduation. One moved to the mainland; one stayed in Hawai'i. One has received national attention; the other is more low key. Both remain loyal to the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, however, and both are philosophical about the comments generated by the new logo they designed for their alma mater's athletic program.

Critics and fans alike weighed in after the July 27 unveiling of the tapa-inspired H. Pacific Business News newspaper chastised the athletic director and head football coach: “The public outcry again was predictable. Yoshida and Jones may know sports, but they have a lot to learn about marketing and image.” Hawai'i Business magazine examined the economics and proclaimed: “Whatever fans feel about the aesthetics or politics of the University of Hawai'i's old logo, one thing is sure: The rainbow was a loser.” For weeks, a legion of letter writers registered their feelings (second highest volume in Star-Bulletin history), more anguished at the thought of losing the Rainbow name than the symbol itself. (In fact, UHM teams can still opt to be the Rainbow Warriors or Rainbow Wahine.) On the other hand, items bearing the new logo sold briskly during the months following its release and logo apparel was prominent among the crowds at sporting events.

Osaki sees all the comments as positive. “It's good to know that we're making an impact,” he says. “People are talking about the logo, and that's what we want, to generate discussion.” His Berkeley, Calif., based company, Osaki Design, has created logos and uniforms for professional teams across the nation, so he knows how attached sports fans get to specific designs.

Even Hirasaki, who continues to live where comments on the logo were most heated, is upbeat. “The overall reaction was very positive,” he concludes, citing feedback calling the design bold, strong and memorable. “Most of the UH sports fans were excited about the change. There were some who admitted they were not 'totally sold on the logo,' but after seeing it in application, they began see the strength and beauty of the mark and logotype.”

Both designers received a bachelor of fine arts from Manoa in 1989. They've stayed in touch over the years, collaborating on a variety of projects. Being UH alumni added interest—and importance—to this project. “Because this is our alma mater, and we love our University of Hawai'i teams, you put a little more pressure on yourself to do a great job,” says Hirasaki, a Honolulu native and president of Hirasaki Nakagawa Design.

Osaki grew up on Kaua'i and graduated from Kapa'a High School. After UH, he studied at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., earning a degree in graphic design and packaging. He's left his mark. Osaki's National Football League clients include the San Francisco 49ers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Baltimore Ravens and the New York Jets. He also designed the logos and uniforms for the National Hockey League All-Star games in Vancouver, Tampa Bay and Toronto and been involved with logo development for the NFL Pro-Bowl. Osaki says one of his UH professors, Clem Lagundimao, gave him confidence. “Before I left for California, I went to his office. I sat there, and he looked at me and said, 'I know what you're thinking. You're scared. You think you're not going to be able to compete. Just go,'” Osaki recalls. “It made me feel good. He experienced the same thing. We think we're so isolated in Hawai'i, but we can compete with anyone. There are a lot of talented people here.”

For his part, Hirasaki credits Osaki's knowledge and experience with surmounting and smoothing out potential problems. “Most of the challenges we encountered were typical to any project that involves a redo of an existing identity a lot of research, interviews, layouts, making design decisions. It's an evolutionary process,” he says.

“I really thought it should represent Hawai'i,” Osaki says. “I live in Berkeley, and Cal [the University of California, Berkeley] represents just Berkeley. UH represents the state, and we should be proud of that.”

The new athletic logo isn't Osaki's only tie to his former home. In 1999, he organized a Hawai'i Chamber of Commerce in Northern California (HCCNC) tailgate party that brought about 3,000 UH fans to the football game against San Jose State. The nonprofit HCCNC encourages networking among Northern California businesspeople with Hawai'i ties. Osaki is vice president.

Wherever he goes, Osaki finds people are intrigued with his island background. “Other people want to be like us. They want to be laid-back. They want to wear aloha shirts. I'm sitting in the NFL offices. They know I'm from Hawai'i. I say 'Aloha!' and people love that.”

Hawai'i is truly special, he says. “Even when you [leave and] come back, people will always be there for you. Nowhere else do you get that kind of support. I hope we can educate future generations and pass that on.”

Heidi Sakuma, a UHM journalism major, works in Sports Media Relations and interned in University and Community Relations