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ESPN’s Social Media Design Team’s Creativity and Preparation Shine Throughout Women’s NCAA Tournament

Learn the stories behind six of the many standout ESPN Social graphics conveying an especially exciting women's college basketball championship chase

This year’s NCAA Division I Women’s Basketball Tournament was one for the books.

ESPN’s full-court coverage of March Madness resulted in multiple records broken in viewershipadvertising, and more.

“This was a monumental tournament for so many reasons,” said Maxwell Kelley, Director, ESPN Social. “We’ve been doing custom edits to promote women in sports for a while now. Seeing the response from our fans throughout this tournament validates the work we’ve done and sets the tone to continue at this standard.”

The excitement continued throughout the tournament on social media thanks to the works curated and designed by ESPN’s Social Media Designers

“This year marked my first time working the women’s NCAA tournament for ESPN,” said Kaylen Buschhorn, Social Media Designer. “I relished the opportunity to showcase these talented women in this year’s tournament and give them recognition for truly pushing the game forward.”

“It’s been very exciting to work on the Women’s NCAA tournament this season,” said Brad Ross, Senior Social Media Designer. “The stars have shined throughout the tournament, and getting to create content showcasing this stardom has been awesome.” 

Here’s an inside look at six eye-catching designs with perspectives from the designers themselves.

“We, as designers, all have a very creative mindset. We will often take ideas from our creative specialists and portray them in a way that will best fit an illustration for our brand and our fans. I have to thank two of our best specialists on this one, Allie Snow and Rachel Bleier. They had the idea to put a portrait shot of Angel inside a Barbie box with all custom accessories as if she were a Barbie doll. It was a blast and an honor to bring that one to life using lots of artistic filters, arrangements, and methods in Photoshop.”

Michael Facciolo, Social Media Designer

“As a designer, I love bringing fresh ideas and new perspectives to sports, and Caitlin embodies that so well. I kept the artwork clean and simple to let Caitlin herself be the star of the design. Working on the Women’s NCAA tournament this year has been so much fun! We saw so much positive engagement around the headlines, and it’s an honor to be a part of the growth of women’s sports.”

Michelle Kim, Social Media Designer

“Inspiration behind this graphic was emphasizing the famous upsets in the tournament and how people rip their brackets up once it’s busted. This design was a joint effort between my colleague Kaylen Buschhorn and myself, and the request for the template was from J’Ron Erby and Jarad Evans.

Grant Goldberg, Social Media Designer

“This graphic was requested by my long-time teammate Amanda Anderson, who has been sending inspired concepts my way since 2015! Social graphics should look like candy – bright, colorful, bold, and easy to understand. 

Iowa’s simple black-and-yellow color palette was a lot of fun to work in. Designing these graphics, for me, is about trusting the editor and leaning into the photography and team colors that are available – finding visual inspiration in the pieces I’m given.”

 Jed Davis, Social Media Designer

“For the LSU championship illustration, the general idea was discussed by Rachel, Allie, and one of our very talented designers Kaylen for a general vision. They basically said we trust you to bring a lot of energy to this illustration with a New Orleans–Mardi Gras theme. I’ve been to New Orleans a few times, once during Mardi Gras. I knew it was only right to have the top-tier players totally amped up on a very colorful float with an LSU flag, the championship trophy, and victory confetti floating all around them, floating through Jackson Square (one of the most iconic locations in New Orleans). Such fun times with this one, and glad I had the freedom as a designer to explore.”

Michael Facciolo, Social Media Designer

“For the Elite Eight graphic, my inspiration was to showcase the distinctive features of Seattle and Greenville [S.C.] – where the teams vied for a spot in the Final Four. The design, at its core, includes images of the Seattle Space Needle and Greenville’s Reedy River flowing through downtown. In addition, my designs often incorporate some of my favorite aspects of the pop art movement, vivid colors and repetition. 

Each photo has an overlay gradient with colors derived from the respective images. My concept came from an old travel scrapbook where I placed photos corresponding to their locations. I included images of both region’s teams’ top players as paper cutouts on each side of the bracket. The highlight of this graphic for me was featuring these eight talented athletes and their passion for basketball, which was shown through their on-court emotions and skills.”

Kaylen Buschhorn, Social Media Designer

While these are some of the top graphics that made it to your social feed, a lot of the content created sits in what designers call “the design graveyard.”

The team prepares for any outcome by creating videos, graphics, and posts for both competing teams, but not all get used.”The posts you see on social media barely scratch the surface of the work our team does,” says Mitchell Clements, Social Media Creative Manager. “We prepare for any outcome well before the games even start; that way, our social specialists are in the best position possible to post during the games.”

Preparation is crucial to success for ESPN Social.

“Stay ready so you don’t have to get ready,” says Kelley.

“Being prepared like this allows ESPN Social to be the leaders across our industry, so it’s all part of the job,” says Ross.

So let’s hear it for the “design graveyard” and hard work of this team by showcasing the designs that didn’t make it to your social feed.

“Design Graveyard” items created by Brad Ross

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