An MLS logo grows in Brooklyn

The finished Inter Miami crest. Doubleday & Cartwright

Let's get the most important thing out of the way first: They're herons, not flamingos.

We're referring here to the crest for David Beckham's new MLS franchise, Club Internacional de Fútbol Miami, which is set to begin play in 2020. The crest, which was released earlier this month, features the color pink and a pair of aquatic birds. But they're not pink flamingos.

"They're great white herons," says Pete Macia, a creative director at the branding firm Doubleday & Cartwright, which created the crest design. "They're common in Miami, and if you watch video of them hunting, they're psychotic! They fight snakes, they fight bigger birds -- really insane hunters. That's what we wanted to capture."

The choice of herons as the mascots for Beckham's new club, and pink as one of the colors, are among several surprising elements of the team's newly revealed identity. Perhaps the most unlikely aspect is the choice of Doubleday & Cartwright as the agency behind the design. The Brooklyn-based firm has no Miami connections and had previously done only one top-level pro team branding project -- a 2015 redesign of the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks.

But Beckham, of all people, has become Doubleday & Cartwright's greatest champion. Responding through an intermediary, he said, "As soon as we met the Doubleday & Cartwright creative team, we knew they were the right people to help us to create something different, something that would really stand out but also have real meaning."

How did a small Brooklyn design shop end up partnering with arguably the world's most famous athlete to create the visual identity for a new MLS team? Here's the behind-the-scenes story of how it happened.

The Assignment

As is so often the case with these types of projects, Doubleday & Cartwright got the Inter Miami gig through a series of fortunate connections. D&C co-founder Kimou Meyer had stayed in touch with a former colleague who's now a major player in the fashion world -- and who also happens to know Beckham. Shortly after D&C's Bucks redesign was unveiled in 2015, Meyer saw the former colleague at an event.

"He said, 'I love what you guys did with the Bucks,'" Meyer recalls. "Then he said, 'I may have something coming up with David Beckham. I'll call you.' We've heard that kind of thing before, and usually it doesn't work out. But a few months later he said, 'I think you're going to get a call from the Beckham camp. They need someone who understands the U.S. branding market. Be ready.' That Friday we got a call: 'David Beckham and his team want to see you in London on Monday.'"

The D&C crew was understandably nervous. "It's David Beckham -- one of our idols," says Meyer. "But my friend told me, 'Be yourself. If you want to curse, curse. He has enough people around him who always bend over backwards for him.'"

The London meeting -- basically a getting-acquainted session that leaned heavily on D&C's past work with the Bucks -- went well. Soon afterward, Beckham said he wanted to visit D&C's offices, which are housed in a nondescript brick building with graffiti-covered doors.

"You could tell he loved that it wasn't, like, a white marble floor, like so many of the places he goes, and that we were basically normal people," says Meyer. "He sat down with us at a table and said, 'Can we crack a beer? Are we going to chill and chat?'"

And thus began an improbable working relationship, much of it conducted via text message as Beckham globetrotted around the world.

"I think part of why he connected with us is that his career path was sort of similar," says Macia. "He wasn't brought in to Manchester United as a star. He came up through the academy, and there are those legendary stories of him staying hours after practice and working on his famous free kicks. He's a gifted athlete, but he's also incredibly hard-working, so I think he roots for the underdog, for people who'll work as hard as he does."

Despite the mutual admiration, D&C hadn't yet been officially hired. The project was essentially on standby while Beckham assembled the rest of his ownership team and made arrangements for a stadium deal, a process that took longer than expected and wasn't resolved until last winter. At that point, the D&C crew was summoned to Miami for an owners' meeting, where some of Beckham's partners were openly skeptical.

"At one point [co-owner] Marcelo Claure said, 'OK, so you guys rebranded a team -- the Bucks -- but you've never branded a team from scratch,'" recalls Meyer. "And of course he was right, so we were nervous. But after the meeting, Marcelo calls us and says, 'I'm still a little concerned about whether you can pull this together, but what can I say? David wants you. But just so you know, I have someone else ready in case you mess up.' And that just made us more competitive -- like, we're gonna crush this, we're gonna put so much work into this, so they won't have a chance to say they made the wrong choice."

"The thing is, that energy of doing something like this for the first time was part of what we were offering them," adds Macia. "We weren't jaded, we weren't using old, clichéd ideas. We even have our own company soccer team, so we understood the sport as players, as fans, and we were more excited to have this opportunity than anyone else they'd be able to find."

So D&C finally had the assignment. Now it was just a matter of executing it.

The Research

Once the D&C team had secured the gig, they needed a crash course in the history and culture of Miami. The bulk of that task fell to Macia, who made several trips to Florida and spent weeks interviewing a wide variety of people -- high school soccer coaches, bar owners, art curators -- in every part of the city. He quickly discovered that there was a lot more to Miami than he'd realized.

"When you go down there, you realize it's not just flamingos and Miami Vice," he says. "That's the caricature version, the Hollywood version, but everyone we talked to said, 'That's not who we are. That's a generation ago -- we're not Don Johnson. We're a modern city.'"

Macia was also pleasantly surprised to find that Miamians didn't seem to mind the prospect of a bunch of Brooklynites designing the brand for the city's new high-profile soccer team. "It's a city with a constant influx of new people, and also lots of people who are there only half the year or part of the year, so they don't have that thing where they're skeptical of the outsider," he says. "Instead, they can see the value of what the outsider brings to the city."

The Birds

After immersing themselves in all things Miami, the D&C crew began turning out preliminary concept sketches. They explored anything that seemed Miami-related -- sun, water, Art Deco, animals, symbols, the letter "M." After going through nearly 1,000 sketches, they agreed that one stood out: a shield shape featuring a pair of birds whose legs formed an "M" shape, along with a sun, a moon, and a star.

"It felt like a good starting point," says Max Amato, the lead designer on the project. "Instead of just one animal, it felt good to have two of them -- a reference to the community coming together."

The sketch was cleaned up and digitized, and then Amato began exploring lots of variations. At this point he didn't necessarily intend for the birds to be herons -- they were just birds -- so the D&C team turned out more sketches, this time of various bird possibilities. But some further research indicated that herons are voracious hunters, they don't migrate from Miami, and they figure prominently in mythology and folklore, all of which made for a good fit.

"When I first saw it, I wasn't sure it was the right direction, especially since we already have Miami teams with marlins and dolphins," says Jorge Mas, the Miami-based business tycoon who, along with his brother Jose Mas, joined Inter Miami's ownership group last winter. "But when they explained the bigger picture of what the heron represents, and showed how we can use it for merchandising and marketing, it frankly blew my mind. The more I looked at it, the more it grew on me. I think that was true for all of us."

Once the birds' species was settled, it became a question of how they should look. Should they be flying? Stationary? How long should their necks be? Should their mouths be open or closed? Should the wings be open or closed? How many stripes should there be to represent the feathers?

Although the initial sketch showed the birds facing each other, the D&C team quickly decided that they looked even better facing apart. "It made them feel more like guardians or sentries, and that felt like the right narrative," says Amato. "Also, it shows how they're looking back at the city's heritage but also looking forward to the future."

Although the birds were turned to face apart, their legs were still oriented to form an "M," just like in the initial sketch. (Beckham says this is his favorite part of the logo.) Meanwhile, the sun and moon were combined to form an eclipse, symbolizing Miami's status as a 24-hour city that's equally active during the day and night. The sun portion of the eclipse was given seven rays -- a nod to Beckham's famous jersey number. (At one point the eclipse was accented with five stars, to represent the five members of the ownership group, but that element was eventually discarded.)

The Colors

The final design includes several elements rendered in pink -- a color rarely seen in North American sports branding. How did that happen?

"David and I wanted to start with black and white," says Mas, Beckham's co-owner. "But we also wanted a color that we could own, and pink was it. Just like with the heron, it was a process, an evolution -- it took a couple of weeks before we were sure. But the more we saw it, the more we embraced it."

D&C obliged by going through many different shades of pink, ultimately arriving at a fairly muted, salmon-ish tone that meshed well with the crest's black and white elements.

"You really do see a lot of pink in Miami," says Macia, the creative director. "And when you see that pink in the sky, whether at sunrise or sunset, you get that sense that something's about to happen, that sense of potential, of either starting your day or starting your nightlife."

The Finishing Touches

For the typography, D&C identified a font called Euclid that was close to what they wanted. They then worked with Euclid's digital type foundry, Swiss Typefaces, to give the font a slightly more Art Deco flavor by modifying some of the letterforms. The result is a font that feels both classic and modern.

Once the wording was finalized, the D&C team worked to harmonize all of the crest's design elements: The curved sections of the birds were based on perfect circles; various elements were aligned at 45-degree angles; and all of the elements were perfectly centered.

The finished crest was finally revealed on Sept. 5.

The Future

Inter Miami won't play its first game until 2020. The new crest will appear on the team's inaugural uniforms, which haven't yet been designed. It's not clear whether D&C will be involved in that process or if the uniforms will be handled by MLS's uniform outfitter, Adidas.

Meanwhile, D&C's clients -- the Inter Miami ownership group -- are very satisfied with the results. "I felt a great responsibility that the logo, team name, and everything else about the brand had to be uniquely Miami," says Mas, a lifelong Miamian who's been involved in many community initiatives and philanthropic ventures. "I think the logo really achieves that."

Ditto for Beckham, who sent this message through an intermediary: "Every part of the crest has significance and celebrates the energy, diversity, inclusiveness and ambition of one of the most incredible cities in the world. It's been amazing to see the reaction from everyone -- the response has been everything we hoped it would be, and I am very proud."

Paul Lukas will never look at a heron the same way again. If you like this column, you'll probably like his Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook and sign up for his mailing list so you'll always know when a new column has been posted. Want to learn about his Uni Watch Membership Program, check out his Uni Watch merchandise, or just ask him a question? Contact him here.