Jonathan Schultz | Projects

One World Futbol

One World Futbol logo designed by Michael Vanderbyl

As the 2010 World Cup casts it glow across living rooms and pubs this summer, expect networks to broadcast heart-rending “special reports” about soccer’s power to inspire hope. Famous footballers will be filmed marching like Pied Pipers through South Africa’s slums, convening impromptu skills workshops and dazzling moon-eyed township youths who are equipped with little but megawatt smiles and disarming laughter. As we watch, we might accuse the producers of propagating dangerously reductive visions of the host nation and of Africa at large. Objectively, however, we might feel a heightened awareness of play’s importance in children’s lives — and how that most elemental toy, a ball for playing “the beautiful game” — can bring smiles to disadvantaged youth long after the cameras stop rolling.

This is the founding principle of the One World Futbol Project, a new initiative with a potent emissary: an indestructible soccer ball.

Unique circumstances spawned both project and product. “At a trade show I met a Quebec firm molding this amazing closed-cell foam material,” explains the ball’s developer, Tim Jahnigen, best known as a pioneer in infrared-therapy technology and techniques. Years later, while he was watching a CNN report about children in war zones, Jahnigen’s lightning bolt arrived. “It was just searing images of these kids. Really only then did the idea crystallize.”

Jahnigen rang up his Quebeçois foam connection and the two parties began development on a ball that would mimic the touch and dynamics of a regulation soccer ball, but would resist punctures, UV rays, cold, chemicals and rain. He then approached his friend Sting (yes, that Sting), who had previously funded a soccer pitch’s construction in Gaza. The pop icon was electrified at the prospect of a ball withstanding the debris-strewn streets of refugee camps. “He said to me, ‘If you do it, I’ll pay for it,’” Jehnigen recalls. In a twist suggesting Sting could out–Kevin Bacon Kevin Bacon in the realm of social networking, the musician introduced Jahnigen to his longtime friend Bobby Sager — a photographer-philanthropist who was responsible, the three would quickly realize, for the images that had initially captivated Jahnigen on CNN. With the Quebec foam-molding firm committed to producing the balls at a fraction of cost, the inventor, the philanthropist-documentarian and the rock star went public with their endeavor in late 2009, with the newly christened One World Futbol in hand.

The Futbol’s back story is PR gold, but the product’s identity needed to be equally compelling. Jahnigen, a lifelong graphic design enthusiast, aimed high. “I’ve admired Michael Vanderbyl’s work since I was a kid in the ’70s. So I just rang up his assistant, Michael and I met and he put together this beautiful logo for us.” Vanderbyl Design’s logo is now molded into every One World Futbol.

A novel funding model supplements Sting’s up-front investment. For every purchase of Sager’s The Power of the Invisible Sun — a bound photo collection compiled from his war-zone philanthropic work — an at-risk child receives a Futbol. In addition to traditional channels such as UNICEF, a recent proliferation of soccer-based NGOs eases distribution challenges. “We don’t need to create the programs; they’re already on the ground,” Jahnigen says. “We just need to be the ball that they use.”

Jahnigen won’t make World Cup predictions. In fact, he has little interest in pro sports. “This isn’t about soccer, it’s about helping children be children,” he says. “Look, I can’t do much about world peace, I can’t solve famine, but the little I can do, I viscerally need to do.”

Posted in: Graphic Design, Philanthropy, Product Design

Comments [8]

Hola queridísimo Jonathan:

Me encanta que escribas sobre estos temas.
Espero que estén muy bien.
El martes ví un programa en Film and Arts sobre la mezzosoprano Cecilia Bartholy, que es una genia, y se parece mucho a Molly!!!
Yo estoy muy activa, encontrando departamentos en Buenos Aires para franceses y jugando al golf.
Muchos besos, también para Molly, para tus padres y Johanna.
Love ya.
Graciela Feinstein

great idea (Jahnigen's not the logo)

the logo is quite terrible. it looks to be a ballet dancer attempting to balance (unsuccessfully) a red dodge ball. but i will give it props for a nice modern aesthetic.
felix sockwell

I agree with Felix Sockwell, that logo isnt great... great work by Tim Jahnigen though
the logo reminded me of this Micheal Bierut article

The indestructible ball is a beautiful idea and I'm sure would bring much-needed joy to severely disadvantaged kids without many good things in their lives.

At the same time, I'm not clear—is this actually a problem that's being solved? Is there, in the aforementioned slums, a lack of soccer-ball-like objects for malnourished, barefoot kids to kick around? I've seen incredibly innovative game balls and goal nets made out of local materials, etc. before...

Here's a tough question: What would be said if it were an indestructible basketball project, for impoverished kids growing up in the ghetto instead of the slum?

Dan Warner

The One World Futbol project is compelling on its own merits. But it seems like the mention of the logo is an unnecessary attempt to put a graphic design spin into the essay. It's a spin I think we could have done without. And a spin which goes astray in light of the mediocrity of the "neutered sprite" logo--which is quite far from being as compelling as the project itself.

("Neutered sprite:" see Michael Beirut's earlier DO essay referenced above by JAD)
Rob Henning

Dear all,

wonderful comments, and helpful critiques.

There is so much that is subjective in design and all but I am thrilled with the work that Michael Vanderbyl donated to our project.

For me it is an honor to have one of the finest creative thinkers take time out of their busy schedule to help create a branding scheme that can take us a long way.

As to the problem that this ball solves, yes, while we aren't wanting to stifle the creativity of children in these camps and war zones, our goal is to simply make one part of their lives that much easier.

Otherwise they are at the mercy of what they can scavenge from the trash heaps.

In addition, NGO's and other groups are already spending a lot of resources bringing in even cheap balls. Part of the problem is that these balls only last a few weeks and then another is brought in to give to the same child. In the course of a year one child can be given up to $100 in balls.

The One World Futbol is a bit more on the front end but will last decades. Our dream is that the children we give these balls to today will use this ball to one day play with their children's children.

Please keep your comments coming and I look forward to reading some of the above mentioned essays. It's all so fascinating and inspiring, thank you all. And actually, the version of the logo above is only one of many that Michael created. We are using one on the balls that has our beloved "sprite" but has the words in a circle around him so in that context it may make more sense and be more appealing. When our site is up and running you'll see what I mean. Blessings to all.
timothy p jahnigen

I just got one of the One World Futbols. It's a great soccer ball. Check out my review.


The One World Futbol is going to be a great idea that will hopefully advance soccer to all parts of the world.

Jobs | July 16