Oct 2, 2015

Graphic Language: Being On Top Of The Game

“I’m standin’ on the Monopoly board,
that means I’m on top of my game,
and it don’t stop ‘til my hip don’t hop anymore”
- Eminiem, ‘No Love

I love seeing work from people who are fully locked into whatever it is they do. Designers, race car drivers, athletes, chefs, musicians - to watch anyone work at their craft who is completely focused and devoted to it is very inspiring. Because usually, they are doing great things.

Those people are easy to spot, too. It’s the designer who posts a shot on Dribbble nearly every day and every post is excellent. Yes, they are working hard and long hours each day no doubt, but when you are constantly in that state of “flow”, it all comes together a little easier. You don’t feel distraction, you lose track of time, and all there is . . . is the work. And the work thrives.

During these times you don’t struggle to tap into focus and “flow”, the real difficulty is tapping out. Sometimes, the only way to do it is to go to sleep, but even then you close your eyes and start designing things in your head. I think we all experience being “in the  zone” from time to time, and most people might view it as something that is short lived, or something you try to get back to every day. For some people that might even be true, but the people I am describing at least seem to be living in it. 

When you find someone who is there, they probably seem bat-shit insane. While watching “Spinning Plates” (on Netflix now) I was really intrigued by master chef Grant Achatz. He talked about getting ideas for food and presentation from looking at a cherry hanging on a tree - he sounds off his fucking rocker, but what he is describing is also really beautiful and that process and state he is in is where we all want to be, and maybe need to be to do our best work. He was so inspiring, I got up and made salsa from scratch; that’s how powerful someone’s passion can be, and I think is the source of the most honest kind of inspiration - not the kind where you look at someone else’s work and set out to imitate it, but where someone else’s work motivates you to do your own.

Grant later says: “If I can’t taste and I cant smell, then I don’t even want to be”.

In my opinion, the greatest race car driver ever was Ayrton Senna, and he often talked about being in flow too. Part of his work-out routine involved meditation to sharpen his focus skills and once described driving at Monaco as "being in a tunnel that never ended, I just kept going and going". I also believe Senna's ability to focus in the car and drive without ever being distracted or intimidated by another driver was his greatest skill.

I know when I am in the flow state and focused strongly on my work; it becomes a sort of sickness. I don’t want to do anything but work. Then, the period of focus will end and I do not wish to work anymore. Something takes my attention away, or I am not as inspired to work as much as I did before. These periods can last a long time too, and then design just becomes boring work.

For those of you who are crushing it every day, I admire you a lot. Whatever your skill or craft is, if you're showing up and doing great work constantly, you're doing things right and your focus, and commitment to it, is something I continue to work on.

Keep up the good work!

Sep 21, 2015

Graphic Language: Timeless Design

Almost every designer you meet when posed the question “what is good design?” surely will mention “timelessness” as one of it’s qualities. We’ve been taught good design is to be free of trends and strong personal styles, so it can outlive modern dilemmas and go on to send it’s message to another generation the same as when it was birthed.

"Timeless design" is something I’ve thought a lot about recently and have changed my viewpoints on it a few times now. I’ve always believed good design could be short lived, trendy, or distinctly styled. I now also believe timeless design is an illusion, an unachievable idea of perfection. But as Vince Lombardi once said about perfection, “If we chase perfection, we might catch greatness”. In the design sense, I think if we chase timelessness, we might catch longevity.

Timeless design as we’ve been taught is an illusion because the truth is you can always see those things in it you’re not supposed to see: trends, the decade it was created, maybe even who the designer was, and one day it will certainly appear old, but the point I’ve come to is that it doesn’t matter if design appears old because it can still be beautiful, delightful, and purposeful if crafted well and built upon the principles and theories of design. It can have a strong aesthetic style, be dated, and still be good, even when it is thousands of years old. Such examples are commonly found in architecture like the Pantheon, the Roman Coliseum, or Gothic cathedrals.

“Let me let you in on a little secret: if you are hearing about something old, it is almost certainly good. Why? Because nobody wants to talk about shitty old stuff, but lots of people still talk about shitty new stuff, because they are still trying to figure out if it is shitty or not. The past wasn’t better, we just forgot about all the shitty shit.” - Frank Chimero

I think these things that are often thought of as contradictions of timelessness can all co-exist with longevity, because if particular somethings are designed well today then it can be considered good a thousand years from now. But, that can only apply to things where technological advances cannot improve it. A painting, a poster, a logo are all impervious to technology’s evolution, but a phone, computer, or car can become obsolete within a year. For those things, timeless aesthetic as I’ve described it may be possible, but timeless function and purpose is not even in the discussion, and I suppose they’re only worth mentioning to say they’re not in the discussion - no one sets to design one of those things for timelessness; that is reserved for visuals.

Trying to find my way through the definition of timeless design has strengthened my beliefs in design principles and the Golden Ratio and such, but has weakened my belief that timelessness is even achievable with design unless we drastically redefine what that means. For me, it no longer means something that is devoid of a time stamp or style but something that remains beautiful year after year, decade after decade.

As time goes on, designs may have to change to properly do the job it was intended to do as they face new issues that could not have been conceived when they were created. But, if a design has to change slightly, I don't think that necessarily means the design has failed the test of time. It fails when it becomes irrelevant, or when someone realizes it was never really good to begin with.

The best I can shoot for today is to try to make art that will be good and beautiful, without fear of having a style or trend crutch, 150 years from now. I feel that is a good marker to shoot for, and although it may not be a truly timeless goal, there is something to say for longevity; and if a piece of art remains good for 150 years, it must have a pretty good chance of being good for eternity anyway.

Sep 10, 2015

Graphic Language: Simplicity Vs Boring

The difference between simple and boring in design is that simple is effective. Simplicity can still be unique, and unique is memorable; two qualities every good brand identity is built on. But, boring is generic and forgettable. Boring is defined as “not interesting” and “unimaginative”, which good design never is. Simplicity defined as “easily understood” which good design should be.

Which leads me to a few examples from the football world. The Oakland Raiders, Indianapolis Colts, and New York Giants have simple uniform designs. The Raiders' uniform effectiveness comes from it’s ability to age so well; the design’s simplicity has allowed it to remain constant since the 1960s as jersey and helmet design has changed drastically. Their colors are so strong and unique to the NFL, they need no more embellishment to stand out from their competitors, or even other black and silver imitators in other sports.

The Giants’ uniforms are also simple, and their effectiveness comes from their uniqueness and quirks in the design, mainly all 3 of their jerseys designed with only 2 colors for each. It is a smart, unique, and beautiful way to design a uniform using the most common color palette in American sports: red, white, and blue.

If you were to apply the colors in a more common fashion, with blue numbers on the white jersey for instance, it would only push the design towards blandness and kill what makes the uniform special. An attempt to apply order through a more balanced rhythm of color (think of how many times a color appears as you scan the uniform from top to bottom) would only remove the personality they currently have, and actually create staleness.

The Giants' “Simms era" uniforms (1981 - 1999) in contrast were completely boring. These uniforms, along with the “Kelly era" Buffalo Bills (1990 - 2001) were archetypal football uniforms. The color palette, number font, number color stroking, jersey and pants striping, white pants, blue jerseys, vertical helmet stripes, all form 2 of the most generic uniforms ever designed.

The current uniforms of the Giants and Bills are better than their past iterations because of the unique qualities they now posses, styled with simplicity in mind; they don’t need to be anything more than what they are. Both teams still use a red, white, and blue color palette but the color hierarchy is different along with the color rhythm application. These are important factors in the entire brand identity too, because it doesn’t stop on the field, you have to think of how it works in the stands, in retail shelves, and every other environment against all the other teams. If you see 32 team jerseys hanging on a wall, each team has to be easily recognizable. You could very easily confuse the early 90s Giants and Bills with each other and that point alone shows they don’t work very well.

(The addition of gray pants for the Giants also adds to their uniqueness amongst red/white/blue teams, while providing a great vintage look)

And if you ever get a chance to see a Giants helmet in person, I dare you not to love it! That deep metallic blue finish and timeless NY monogram makes one of the most gorgeous helmets ever created.

Aug 27, 2015

Career Moves: Preparing For The Next Chapter

One of the main reasons I started writing this blog was to track my design career moves; to have something to look back upon one day and remember how I felt during these times, what I expected, how those things changed, and what I learned during these chapters.

I haven't written about a career move in a year and a half because the last one took me from Columbus, OH (with a quick stop back in Orlando) to Indiana where I've since been a full time independent designer.

Over the past year I thought I had a great chance to move back "home" to Florida in Orlando or to Jacksonville, or to my favorite state Colorado to Denver, or to the great cities of Oakland and Austin, but all these leads ended with "thanks for applying. . . .". It's been a lot of disappointment trying to find another full time position. 

When I moved back to Indiana, it seemed like a low point in my life where I perhaps made a big mistake or two on my journey. It has actually been the most important 1.5 years of my time as a graphic artist and I wouldn't change it for anything. I've been able to reflect on my time and experience with all the wonderful people in Columbus and take the many things I learned there to make my independent career better than I thought possible in this short time.

Another reason is it's been important is because I looked at my work over the past 6 years extensively, studying it like Peyton Manning might study a defense, looking for weaknesses, strengths, and deciding where I wanted to go from there and hitting it with a laser rocket arm TD pass! . . . well, no i didn't quite do that (I'm so ready for football!). I wasn't too happy with my work though, but I was able to create a pretty good vision of what I wanted. The result is I finally found myself as an artist and a designer and have been doing the best work of my life. This past year and a half I have built the foundation for my future in design.
All of this self reflection was initiated with 2 goals in mind: A) I would use this new transformation as a means to prove to that I was ready to take on another full time position, and this time be ready for it in a way I never was before, or B) Write off working for someone else completely and commit full-on to being an independent designer.

The time to make this decision is now. There may be a possibility for me to take on a dream job soon but, even if it doesn't happen the next chapter in my career can begin without it. This is when I decide which avenue to take. Well, within the next month or so, the interview isn't until next week.

Last year I wouldn't have had any confidence to make such a hard edged career decision. It's not all been easy, there were rough times last year. Times where I was laying on my bed wondering what I was going to do for money because I just spent my last $1 (in change) on a burrito for dinner at the gas station down the street and had nothing on the horizon.

I'd say it was the 2nd worst time of my life - 2nd to the time 24 year old me moved to Florida for my first job post-college and was dragging everything I had at the time in a suitcase across Orlando to ask a family friend if I could stay with him for a while because I had no more money for a hotel. (He obliged, but that whole weekend I only ate a can of beans and drank a shit ton of water; my first check didn't deposit til monday morning). For a week after, I walked a mile to a bus stop, rode the city bus to work, then traced the steps back. I never complained; my grandfather fought in the Battle of the Bulge at 20 years of age - that was truly rough times. 

I've always stayed committed to being and growing as a designer and as I write this, I do so from Pueblo, Colorado because I could afford to come here for a few weeks just as a getaway. I love the mountains here.

A line from my favorite Eminem song, "8 Mile" goes:

"Got the urge, suddenly it's a surge
Suddenly a new burst of energy has occurred"

That's how I feel today, and it is how I know this possible new job offer could not have come at a better time. I feel strongly this is the apex of my career thus far and whatever path I choose to go next, I will take on with a full head of steam and lay the bricks that will build my career future for the rest of my life. I plan to either be making it on my own until my last day, or staying at this position, if offered to me, for a long time. I am anxious to find out which it will be. I am ready to make this commitment. I am excited for either avenue. I am ready to just do it.

Jul 30, 2015

Martini Racing Is The Best Racing Livery Ever

OK, so the title is a bit disingenuous. Because, the topic is subjective and there is really no “best” anything in design. I’m really talking about what is my favorite livery system, and this is a system, not a single livery - not 1 car, or multiple cars painted the same way as with the old Marlboro race cars. But, I am convinced that this is the best system in the racing world for good reasons and ones that make it unique.


Some people call this “timelessness” but, I don’t really believe in that. At some point, everything looks dated. What creates the longevity for the Martini Racing designs is the thing I will talk about next paragraph. The point is, the system looks just as great applied to a 1970’s Formula 1 car as it does to a 2015 Porsche 911. There are not many designs you can say are “as classic as it is modern” but it certainly applies to Martini Racing liveries and if any design ever created actually is timeless, this is it. The reason is because of its flexibility.


The rules of the system are very simple: you start with a primary base color, usually white, and apply the stripes to fit the curves and angles of the car. they can be perfectly straight for contrast, or bend and flow with the car to create a sense of motion and rhythm. Often, the stripe is cut in half and red becomes a secondary color, but the stripe remains recognizable. There is not a vehicle, bike, or object the system can’t work well on.

Color Palette

The individual colors are not unique in the racing world, in fact very common: navy blue, bright blue, red, and white. But, putting them together in the familiar hierarchy the colors and stripe become a better symbol of the brand than the logo itself. Together the colors become eye catching and make the cars easy to spot on the track but, remove just one and the car starts to fade into the pack. Where many of the classic and most loved liveries are built on 1 (Ferrari red) or 2 (STP, Gulf) colors, its the 4 of Martini’s that make it strong.

The Stripes

It’s all about them stripes! Stripes are patterns and there may not be a better example of how important a pattern can be to a brand than Martini’s. It’s the 1 thing everyone knows about the racing team and is applied to everything from apparel to driver and crew uniforms. The stripes actually are the beacon of Martini, while their logos could disappear and never be missed.


The stripe itself is a foundation for creativity. Even the straight version suggest movement, or even a road. Seeing the stripes in the below examples shows that clearly, especially when bent and twisted to further that idea in a more unique way.

There’s nothing about the livery system I don’t love, and the best part is that it always has the possibility to surprise you and give you something you’ve never seen before. Giving the stripes to different designers and applied to different cars and mediums opens up endless possibilities. If there are Martini racing cars 100 years from now, I don’t know what they will look like but, I can guarantee they will look absolutely beautiful.