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.


Longevity


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.


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.


Possibility



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.





Jul 16, 2015

Graphic Language: Creating Constraints



It is often noted by artists of all mediums that they find ideas, and the very act of creating easier, within constraints. Rules they apply to their styles, or maybe just a certain project. The goal usually is to gain some "creative traction"; to build a set of rules that instead of being a restrictive "box" actually is more of a compass that guides them in the right direction.

I've been a graphic artist for 7 years and have always felt the only constraints I needed were the common principles (rhythm, repetition, unity, variety, hierarchy, etc.) and theories (golden ratio, gestalt, etc.) of art; allowing those things to craft my work to good quality while avoiding anything too specific that would limit my ideas, or even shape my work into a strong style. I've never been afraid of the white canvas, so i wanted to always keep my options open to all things.

The past year and a half has been different though. I have only about 230 fonts on my laptop (I've seen designers with over 2,000), and have 12 favorites I've highlighted as go-to fonts. I've started building a "crayon box" of Pantone swatches and RGB swatches I can pull from so I don't have to spend a whole day selecting the perfect navy blue - I have 4 or 5 good ones I know will work. And, I am actually implementing a defined style more and more into my work which has become heavily influenced by print design (speckle tone paper is my new jam) and mid century American automotive and sports design. The results I am finding is that it allows me to focus on creating good ideas first, then decorating them accordingly. My processes have become faster, and as most artists themselves will say, my own work isn't very good - but it's some of the best work I've ever done.

The basic art principles and theories remain a part of my creative toolbox but that toolbox is filling up with other things too. I think that's the way to look at it - not as restraints and preferences that fence you in, but as adding to a toolbox. It would then make sense to invest in quality tools as well.

I've long been a believer that "designers shouldn't have a style; you design for the project given". That is still valid to me, but I now think you have to be more selective than that quote suggest. You have to have a specialty while maintaining well roundness. There is some sort of balance you have to find. Massimo Vignelli once said "If you can design one thing, you can design anything". Easy enough for Massimo to say, because he could do it. But he did everything with strict principles and taste that guided him in all projects. You see it in the book covers he designed as well as the chairs. His work, no matter the subject, is indisputably Massimo.

As always with these kinds of posts, I don't know if i'm right, all I can do is tell you what I'm doing and if it is working for me.

i'd love to hear anyone else's thoughts on style and/or project restrictions and parameters you set in your work in the comments.

Jun 30, 2015

In Response to Nike Bias: Adidas: Sports Apparel Laughingstock


article link here

I'd like to touch on an article going around titled: Adidas: Sports Apparel Laughingstock, because I found a lot of questionable claims. Questionable at best, and it is filled with Nike bias and feels written by someone who just hates adidas without giving them their fair share of credit and definitely without knowing the whole picture of their history and strategy.

First of all, let's not act like everything Nike and UA does is gold. Truth is, if you take each company’s best and worst in all sports and put them against each other, there's not a lot of difference. And, Nike is completely failing in the NFL right now as far as tasteful aesthetics go and are absolutely as bad as adidas' NCAA basketball uniforms.

There is also no mention here of one of the biggest backfires this year from Nike, the US women's soccer team uniform which features no national colors and is designed more like "team Nike".



 Pulling from the article. . .  

"[adidas] range from botching a shoe deal with Kobe Bryant back in 1996, to acquiring the sinking ship known as Reebok, to having its splashiest recent endorsement deals in basketball and football backfire. See, e.g., Derrick Rose, Dwight Howard, Jeremy Lin and Robert Griffin III, just to name a few."

Isn't this mainly bad luck? Nike signed Lebron before he was in the NBA because they offered more money. What if he had been hurt? there was no guarantee, they're all going for the hot athletes as soon as possible, it just hasn't worked out for adidas in the same way.

Oh but by the way, adidas is also endorsed by Lionel Messi, Justin Beiber and Selena Gomez (i know, but pop culture icons and the author is crediting Giselle in his article), and John Wall.

Sure Nike has Brady, Tiger, Michael Vick (previously), Lance Armstrong (previously), Kobe. . . but these are all athletes who have had off-field or on-field issues. From cheating the game to rape accusations, these Nike's endorsers do as much to hurt their image as they do to move shoes. That's why a couple of them were dropped.

“When I was growing up in the 1990s, I viewed adidas as Europe’s version of Nike. While it wasn’t marketed much in the United States, I associated it with luxury because it was classic and foreign. But in failing to copy both Nike and Under Armour’s appeal to young consumers, adidas has lost its identity as a premium product.”

That's one side of the story; In the 90's one of adidas' biggest unofficial endorsers was NWA and much of the West Coast hip hop movement. The adidas and Raiders gear was probably an influence on the forthcoming trends in black.

“Sadly, much of the company’s demise is attributable to the heinous uniforms its been responsible for in the last several years. Yes, Nike and Under Armour have had their misses with new uniforms, but they’ve also had a lot of hits. Adidas, on the other hand, almost exclusively sustains misses.“

I don’t think the author sees the end goal of all these companies - to sell shoes. Sports uniforms is only the tip of the iceberg here and don’t think you can put their successes and failures squarely on jerseys. Nike can offer schools/leagues more money that's a huge benefit. Their marketing is certainly better than the others. There's lots of moving pieces here. 


“Making good-looking sports uniforms isn’t rocket science. All it takes is basic fashion rules and common sense. Unfortunately, adidas no longer has either”

I nearly stopped reading after this, but I'm going to see the end. He goes on to mention the bad Notre Dame and Michigan football uniforms without mention of the good Shamrock and Rival uniforms adidas produced for the same schools. There is clearly a bias. 




“Adding to the embarrassment, adidas’ Michigan basketball uniforms have had several wardrobe malfunctions that make the company’s product appear not just incredibly ugly, but horribly cheap.”

Every football coach i've talked to says they hate UA's equipment and their cleats are the cheapest on the market; they blow them out quick. There's been a lot of praise for their pants though, but all of these companies have their quality issues.

“Adidas needs to stick with a classic and clean look that honor the uniforms of yesteryear at its partner schools — especially with nostalgia so popular these days — and put just a couple modern touches to bring the uniforms forward to the year 2015.”


Well there's the answer to all the problems eh? Honestly, it's not a bad approach and might even be one i’d like to see them or Russell Athletic try. They should stop trying to out-Nike, Nike but I don't think the strategy to save the company can really be put into a single sentence. It has to be a culture and brand change not just a different approach to aesthetics. Nostalgia is not "popular these days" nostalgia is always popular and always will be.

“Take Miami’s glorious uniforms from the 1980s and ‘90s. . . . Update the fabric, fit and font for the present day. . .  And voila! You have a masterpiece.”

Is this what the author thinks the 18 month design process at Nike is? The football uni design presented is a total change in brand for Miami. That's fine if you have the right info to suggest the change is right, but Miami has always been a modern school, they were sort of the Oregon before Oregon, often wearing a custom jersey design and changing it again before it got too stale. To dress them in a throwback inspired uniform is a big leap from that. The author is just selecting the design he likes best without any goals or strategy behind it - That's not an answer.

“I don’t want to hear that classic uniforms don’t appeal to 18-year-old kids. High school recruits will love wearing any great uniform, not just ones that look like they came from some dystopian future.

After all, Alabama never changes its uniforms, and the Crimson Tide isn’t exactly hurting on the recruiting trail.”

You might not want to hear it, but that's the truth for the majority and is largely the reason Nike did what they did with Oregon. I guarantee you if you ask the Oregon players about their favorite things about being a Duck, they will mention wearing the uniforms. That doesn't mean a kid will avoid Penn State because of the blank helmets, but it is the cherry on top of the experience. A little sexiness in the uniform is preferred by recruits.

Moreover, the identity and uniform design is an extension of the brand values. What Oregon and Alabama are trying to project are very different, their approach to, just about everything, is different. Both uniforms are great because they are appropriate for who they are as a school, as a brand, and both have excellent football programs that will trump any design anyway.

“In fact, the only successful alternate uniforms adidas has made for Michigan have been basketball throwbacks”


What? . . .




“The best example of that is Baylor’s gold chrome helmet designed by Nike that has proven to be wildly popular.”

Now there seems to be no difference between good and popular. One of the worst things to ever happen to football uniforms in my opinion, was the trend in chrome plated helmets. I think the Baylor helmet looks terrible. But yes, it is fairly popular with recruits, just like the other anti-Alabama designs that every manufacturer is dipping into.

Before the author said "Adidas needs to stick with a classic and clean looks that honor the uniforms of yesteryear" but now suggest an adoption of trends. Of course, mixing old elements with new is a great way to design something new, but I don't feel the author has any clear sense of direction of what he wants from adidas let alone what they actually should do.I don't believe it is a strategy that works for every client either. It is what Ohio State does, but not Alabama, not Penn State, and not even Oregon.

What is most surprising about this particular quote though, is it doesn't seem to count that adidas has already used the chrome technique in the most original way with Indiana (below) and overall, executed the dream scenario of "classic and clean" with a butt-ugly trend.




Jun 29, 2015

Why The Atlanta Falcons Have The NFL’s Best Uniform



The Falcons are currently wearing, what I believe, is one of the very best football uniforms ever designed.

If you’re unfamiliar with the world of football uniform aesthetics, I can assure you that sentence will cause many a reader to question if they read it correctly and my sanity.

And that's what makes this particular topic interesting to me; because most fans of sports design will tell you the "Dirty Bird" uniform is actually one of the very worst in the NFL. I’ve seen it described as a “clown suit”, a "dumpster fire", and a “hot mess”.

I see this uniform not only as the most beautiful, attractive, and bad ass modern design in the league, but also as visual perfection - an A+. A grade I would not give to any other NFL team.

There is no official rule book or scale to critique these things, so naturally I had to develop my own. Based on the things I feel make a great uniform design, I created an A-to-F scale (or 1-to-5 star if you like) to assist in critiquing uni designs - the criteria for an A is this:

A – Exceptional.  Design that is unique to the team and/or perfectly captures their culture/brand. May be a traditional design, but no mistaking for competitors. Technical craftsmanship is without flaws. Consistency and unity among every element and across every jersey cut and helmet design.

If I’m being charitable about it, I could grade 6 other NFL teams with an A. But, that would require overlooking the sleeve stripe hacking of the Packers, Steelers, and 49ers, omitting the poorly drawn Raiders logo, letting go of the tangents of the Bears’ GSH sleeve monogram (which I’m likely to do), and passing by the inconsistent tailoring of the Colts’ jersey stripes.

And if i were to mark each of those teams with an Exceptional grade, Atlanta would still be my personal favorite due to it's modern boldness, great color, and clean lines.

But sticking to my own system, no matter how pedantic it may or may not be, it is the foundation on which i make these grades. The flaws in the other teams are there. Many people will judge a uniform on the basis of "if they just changed X it would be great". While that may be true, it's not critiquing the design fairly. You must critique based on what it is, not what it could be; the process is already complete and what we are left with is one uni to rule them all: The Atlanta Falcons.



The theme of this uniform is “speed and movement”, a perfect direction for a team whose mascot is the fastest bird on the planet. It was designed when then Falcons QB Michael Vick was running wild on defenses and I believe it was created with his athletic characteristics in mind. From Primary logo, to word mark, to jersey and pants, the consistency, taste, rhythm, and unity is the archetype for this niche of design. The lines and shapes found in the logo are found in the numbers, in the pants stripes, the jersey stripes - a perfect blend of sharp corners and rounded edges.

The use of space is also important. It is one of the very few NFL uniforms where sock stripes are not required. The large spaces on the helmet created by the lack of stripes and a matching face mask and shell color are balanced by the large blank spaces in the pants and socks. The details never go too small using perfectly proportioned areas of color in the jersey sleeves and thick numbers with bold drop shadows.



Where many jerseys implement a sleeve design that runs into the seams of the shoulder/torso with an awkward cut-off, The Falcons’ design uses piping to seal off the sleeve design, then runs down the side of the body creating a slimmer, more athletic looking profile for the player. Perhaps most importantly, the sleeve design doesn’t change between any of the different jersey cuts. Every player is wearing the same design.

Even the black cleats compliment the look and provides a well balanced lower body color application and as every black cleat does, visually separating the leg from foot so the players don't look like they’re wearing giant white boots.

If you're looking for some "magic" and something that makes the uniform special without being out of place, the silver in the logos do just that. It's a little touch of color that prevents the design from ever becoming boring and finds itself used in other identity touch points like apparel and marketing.

Writing this, I was looking for reasons to not like the design; to find something out of place; to see where I was wrong. At this time, my love for the entire identity and confidence in this design has only grown stronger. While we all understand the subjectivity of taste and personal preferences and realize this uniform could be different, I do not believe it could be objectively better. I hope it never changes.