Illini Athletics creates campus-themed icons with new app

By Emily Scott

In case you have ever wanted to send your friends a gif of John Groce, Illini men’s basketball head coach, that process can now become a bit easier.

Illinois Athletics recently released an app that is now available for download from the Apple App Store and Android Google Play. It allows users to access an Illini-themed keyboard and features emojis, gifs and stickers that can be used in messaging or posting on social media.

Michelle Stenger, the digital strategist for Illinois Athletics, said the idea to create an emoji keyboard emerged after seeing other athletic departments release their own keyboards through a company called Snaps.

“We thought it seemed really cool and engaging,” Stenger said.

After reaching out to Snaps, a plan was set in motion to create a keyboard. Stenger said Illinois Athletics is the second university in the nation to release their own branded emoji keyboard.

According to Eduardo Diazmunoz, creative director for Illinois Athletics, creating the keyboard is part of their push to promote the brand, specifically the Block I symbol that can be seen on Illinois apparel and uniforms.

“Every time we’re mentioned, we want to make sure that people associate Illinois with our new Block I and our new colors,” Diazmunoz said.

It was also a plan to reach the demographic that heavily uses messaging app and social media. According to Snaps’ website, over 85 percent of 13-34 year olds use messaging apps daily.

“We wanted to try and reach our fans and students,” Stenger said. “We’re right at the forefront of all this.”

Once a plan to create a keyboard was set in motion, the emojis had to be designed. Diazmunoz said that they had the option of letting Snaps design them or creating the emojis themselves.

“I figured, why outsource this when we know our campus, our athletes and our uniform better than anybody?” Diazmunoz said.

So together with Stacie Sansone, intern for Illinois Athletics and recent graduate, they got to work designing a variety of Illini-themed emojis, gifs, and stickers using Adobe Illustrator.

The finished keyboard includes a variety of campus icons, such as a squirrel, the Alma Mater, the Red Grange statue and even the Illini Union. All of the items featured can be copied and pasted so that the user can input them into a message.

“We knew we wanted Alma, and the squirrel was added in for fun,” Sansone said. “That’s my personal favorite.”

Stenger said that Snaps took care of the backend development for the app, and after conferring with the company to make adjustments to the designs, they released the app on Sep. 3.

So far, Stenger and Diazmunoz said the general response to the keyboard has been positive.

“I think it’s been a pretty good hit,” Diazmunoz said. “I’ve seen the gifs on Twitter; it’s really cool to see something that we made be everywhere.”

Sansone said she believed the keyboard received a positive response because people enjoyed the personalized aspect of having something specific to the University.

“It’s kind of a big deal,” she said.

To promote the keyboard, social media was their priority.

“That’s kind of the thing now,” Diazmunoz said. “You put something on Twitter; you may get a hit and may reach a ton of followers and a ton of people.”

They plan to add new emojis to the keyboard, but they don’t have a set date or timeline for when they will do so.

“We’re going to be smart about it, see which ones people are sending the most, what are people responding to, and adapt and move forward,” Stenger said.

As they get more footage from athletic events, they plan to make gifs more of a focus.

“We need to wait until we get more footage from in-game stuff,” Diazmunoz said. “Gifs will be the big thing that we’re going to try to push, since you can use them on social media.”

Though promoting the Illini Athletics brand is the goal, Diazmunoz emphasized how their intention is to engage fans in a fun way.

“I know a couple of friends who have downloaded it, so every now and then, we’ll text each other the Grange or the Butkus (emojis),” he said. “The point is to have fun with it.”

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