Feb 4, 2016


Remember being a kid and having a box of Crayola crayons? Whether it was the humble box of 8 or the Baller status box of 120, when it came to coloring your favorite cartoon characters, you had what you had. Your color choices were limited and you had to make those colors work. If you were like me, you became so familiar with that box of colorin’ sticks, you could instinctively reach for the perfect color when you needed it. Why would I use any other color than “Middle Green” for the Ninja Turtles skin, or “Cerulean” for Leonardo’s mask?

Now think about how you make color palettes today as a designer or artist, and all the choices you have. Even if all you do is branding work and every project calls for Pantone colors, you still have thousands of swatches to choose from. It can be overwhelming sometimes, and often time consuming. 

The truth is, over the course of your career, you’re not going to use all of those Pantone colors - you probably won’t use a majority of them that are available. So why bother with every PMS swatch?

I created my own PMS “crayon box” to eliminate a lot of choices, and to make my color palette creating simpler and faster. You don’t need to comb through every shade of “Navy Blue” every time you make a logo, I only have about 6 navy swatches in my crayon box. When I know I need Navy, I just select one from my file. Sometimes, it’s not quite right and I do need to dig through the PMS options to find the perfect one, but more often than not I’m pulling from 1 of those 6.  

I’ve also made PMS selections based on some classic colors like Klein Blue, Gulf Racing Blue, and Cadmium Yellow. These colors have specific connotations and meanings so any time I come across a need for them, the “crayon” is already there ready to go to work.

I used to save a lot of color palettes I would get from Kuler or make on my own. I found I very rarely used them for projects; instead I was building palettes 1 color at a time. I eliminated the palettes and focused on individual colors. I was working in a way that was closer to my time spent with those Crayola crayons. 

Since I’ve started doing this, the design process has definitely sped up, and I am learning this crayon box as I did my Crayola’s when I was a kid. I’m getting to know how these colors look on white, black, which blue pairs best with which orange, what projects I used a specific color on, and so on. Though there are some times where new colors are introduced, the color foundation of my work comes from here and it’s become personal. 267 C is my favorite purple, 279 C my favorite blue, and 9060 C shows up any time I need a vintage white. I sort of feel these colors are becoming “my colors” and are developing my style. That’s supposed to be a dirty word in design, but if it works, there’s nothing wrong with it.

Jan 26, 2016

Career Moves: Miami

My design career would not be what it is without the jukes and okie-dokes that have come with it over these 7 years. Just as I expect it to go one way, it goes another. Committed to Florida? Nope, moving to Ohio. Getting comfortable there? Back to Indiana. You like Austin and Portland? Well, you’re going back to Florida.

Back to Florida. I’ve moved in and out of Orlando so many times I’ve truly lost count. This time is a bit different though. I’m going to Miami; taking my talents to South Beach, to join the Miami Dolphins.

This was a surprise in many ways to me. I applied to this position out of curiosity, to see if they would have any interest in me and if this would be an opportunity that I would have any interest in. With each person I have met and talked to about the Dolphins, about this creative environment, the team structure, it didn’t take long to sell me on the position. I wanted to be there.

There are few things I love more than football and design, so of course to be able to join an NFL creative team is a bit of a dream come true. Over these 7 years though, I’ve come to learn that not every job with an NFL team is as glamourous as it sounds. There are a few teams I would not work for, for various reasons so I’m not jumping at this role just because it’s an NFL job. The reason I am excited to join the Dolphins is because of the creative environment already set and the work being done. (It doesn't hurt that the team just happens to be located in Miami). I can’t wait to see where this brand goes over the next year, the next 5 years, the next decade. I can’t wait to get my hands on it and help guide it there.

It’s a good time to be a Dolphins fan too. Rookie head coaches rarely do well in the NFL, but I’m a big fan of new head coach, Adam Gase. They just hired Clyde Christensen as OC too, both of these guys have connections to Peyton Manning and the Colts, so as a hardcore fan of “The Sheriff” and the Indy franchise, I’m excited to see what they can do in their new roles and how they represent a part of Colts Nation as Dolphins. Throw in some talented defensive players, having their franchise QB in place, and new stadium renovations, this team’s future looks really good to me.

As much as I have enjoyed being an independent designer for 2 years, and as much as I needed that time to grow as a designer, I am both relieved and excited to begin this next chapter. That doesn’t mean I am giving up on things I’ve worked hard to build. The Modern History of Football Uniform Design book will be released this year, I just launched Anchor & Raid Apparel with Justin Garand, and, I’m always open to talking about other design projects. 

Just don’t ask me to see uniform stuff before it’s released, you ain’t gettin’ it!

Go Dolphins!

Dec 22, 2015

Graphic Language: Forget About Storytelling In Design; It’s About Short Messages

"Storytelling” is a word you will hear used by designers as often as “content, consumer, user, and problem solving”. All buzzwords I absolutely loathe and could go on and on about, but let’s stick with “storytelling” for this post.

This word is a bit different from the others though, because I think it might often be used as a synonym of what I think works in design, which is short messages. Even though someone who uses “storytelling” and I might be talking about the same concept, I believe "messages" is a better choice of words. 

There is no doubt that graphic design is visual communication. Our graphic choices made within a composition all “say” something on their own by constructing a visual voice, personality, or mood. By doing this, many people say they are creating stories in their designs but, stories are complex with many different characters, a plot, sub-plots, various settings, a beginning, middle, end, maybe a narrator; there is a lot going on and I don’t believe stories exists well within design.

Design, to me, is more about a very focused message. The bigger the brand, the smaller and more focused the message it seems. Coca-Cola is about “spreading happiness” and Nike is about “taking action” as their infamous tag-lines suggests. Everything these brands do revolves around that. 

Sure, every company or product has a story, a nice background, and maybe something really interesting about how it came to be, but there’s no room for all of it in design. You have to pull the things you want to communicate the most and express that with design. An entire brand identity should be about expressing core ideas to the world. There’s no time for stories anyway, people’s attention spans are too short to get the whole thing and they don’t care about it anyway. Not until they’re sucked in and really start to make the brand a part of themselves.  

I’m certain there is no way to “tell a story” in a logo - a logo is a beacon from the brand’s lighthouse to guide the audience in. It's not trying to be the map and town signage, just 1 simple marker. Logos are best when they are expressing a single thought. To go back to Coke and Nike, that’s how their logos are built too: "tradition" and "motion". It’s a snapshot of the full story.

I’ve never heard anyone explain exactly what they mean by storytelling in design, and maybe their definition wouldn’t be too far from what I’ve laid out here. But, I can’t help but cringe at the phrase. I’m not interested in “finding the story”, I’m interested in finding one idea to express a simple message. That way of thinking works best for me. 

Dec 15, 2015

My 15 Favorite Designs of 2015

There were so many great design projects I saw this year; countless logos, posters, and type work that filled every day with aww and envy. So, like last year, I want to pay respects to my favorite pieces of graphic design of 2015. The emphasis on favorite, this is by no means a “Best of 2015” list. I’m selecting things that I find beautiful, original, thoughtful, well executed, and generally interesting myself. 

Although I love everything on the list and think everything is worth taking a closer look at, I implore you to follow the links to the top 4 projects and spend some time going over those. You won’t regret it!

15. Starbucks Holiday Cups

This has nothing to do with the manufactured “controversy” that came with these cups. The genius here is that they take the Seinfeld approach - a cup about nothing. "Everyone’s doing something for the Holidays, we’ll do nothing!" As the Starbucks logo has become the “symbol for coffee” maybe the brand has reached the point where the cups have become the “cup for the winter season”, their red stands out beautifully against a snowy winter background and can be recognized from far away as a piece that can only belong to 1 brand. 

It’s such a bold design move, the ultimate exercise in minimalism. They have always had really interesting illustrations that I usually look forward to, but the red gradient cup is a design that no one could have predicted and leaves me applauding and admiring the Starbucks team for pulling off something so simple it makes me feel stupid for not thinking of it first. 

14. Spokane Empire
Designed By: Brian Gundell

The AFL team formerly known as the Shock has re-branded as the Empire. The name takes inspiration, of course, from the area’s railroad history and the logos are beautifully intricate, revealing something new about themselves with each view. The primary engine is filled with goodies like an “S” and a “9” hidden in the artwork. The primary mark is built upon the old sports logo standard composition of “heavily illustrated mascot over text” but the care and craft put into it makes it impossible to dislike.  

If you like your logos simpler and more timeless, the monograms are for you. This is the only sports identity on my list this year thanks mostly to those monograms with the cool spike through the middle. I don’t care for the team itself at all, but I would definitely rock a t-shirt with one of those monograms on it. Here’s hoping to one of those landing on the sides of a gloss black helmet. 

13. New Call Project Posters
Designed By: Bunker Type

The best design is the kind that you can get your hands dirty with. The use of letterpress type is enough to get my attention, but the way they used that type to create posters that reflect DADA and David Carson’s style makes these posters unique. The textures and overprints are details that everyone tries to recreate digitally, but to see them made the real way makes you appreciate them more than you ever could an imitation. 

12. Nike N7 Collection

Nike’s N7 collection supports the N7 Fund, which helps enable Native American youth be active in sports. This is the first project on the list that really gets me excited because of what it stands for and not just aesthetics. I’m a supporter of anything that benefits Native American culture and Nike has built a collection here in a very similar way to how they build a brand around anyone else. Nike only wants to put it’s product on the very best athletes and representatives, so for N7, those idols are professional dancer Veronica Lind and Ojibwe First Nations Ambassador, Jordan Nolan.

Not only does the apparel look great, but a select few basketball teams sport turquoise uniforms to help support the cause as well. This year, Kevin Durant supported N7 by kicking off the line release, wearing his own N7 shoes in game. 

11. Sonos logo
Designed By: Bruce Mau Design

The Sonos wordmark logo isn’t anything special on it’s own, but the supporting pattern is what makes it amazing. As you scroll up/down, the background starts to pulsate like sound waves. The best part is, the design team created it by accident. The background was meant to simply be a visual representation of energy, but then discovered it started bangin’ heavy when they moved it. 

10. Formula E Championship Posters
Designed By: Knock Twice

I love illustrated posters and could do a whole list full of them, and with all do respect to the Titans of the industry like Kevin Tong and DKNG, there was one series that stood out to me this year. Maybe it has a bit to do with my love of motorsports, but the Formula E posters have me coming back for another look again and again. 

The various perspectives are interesting, the color palette retro, and the scenic city elements personal. There is a mix of old school racing design and modern flat illustration and if I have to pick a favorite, it would be Monaco.

9. Surreal
Designed By: StudioJQ

This is only a concept branding project, but that doesn’t keep it from being one of the best things I saw this year. Jonathan Quintin is one of my favorite designers and it’s hard to pick just 1 thing to highlight from his portfolio, but I’m confident in this pick. 

The appeal for me starts with my love for surrealism, and the images used in the project are just gorgeous. They’re things I would hang on my wall by their own merits, but add in Quintin’s type work and it takes it over the top. The pastel colors help reinforce the dreamy weirdness, and I prefer those to the electric palette added at the end of the project. The only thing I don’t like about the project, is it’s only a concept brand. I would love to see it applied to a Surrealism museum or something similar. 

8. Brand New Conference Identity
Designed By: Under Consideration

The 2014 Chicago conference identity made my list last year, and I liked that better than this one, but Armin and Company do it again! It’s like they’re speaking directly to me and my art passions with this one, taking direct influence from New York’s street art and mixing it with a font they wanted to use just because they liked it; no better explanation needed. 

The 2 distinct styles in the identity clash beautifully and you’ll not find another identity like it. The spray painted elements were not made in Photoshop, they were made with paper and paint, then combined with Obsidian font and really feels like you’re getting an honest representation of 2 different sides of NYC. Overall it’s just executed the way I feel graphic design should be; get some paper, paint, and scissors and get your hands dirty. Working digitally all the time is lame! 

7. Poppi Air
Designed By: Teague

I do like the identity design of this concept project, but it wouldn’t have made my favorites list based on aesthetics alone. It’s the ideas and thinking behind it that makes it great. 

The biggest enemy of today’s airlines isn’t cutthroat competition or complex regulatory processes—it’s the status quo. Conventional thinking about the way we structure and operate our businesses leaves us vulnerable to the innovations of others. This is how Uber upended the taxicab industry, and how Airbnb is challenging hoteliers. Yes, barriers to entry in the airline industry are high. But the industry’s current trajectory of taking more—and giving less—to increasingly dissatisfied passengers is a perfect set-up for disruptive innovations.”

The project re-thinks the whole airline experience and designs that experience, rather than just a livery and stationary. Teague established some company values then set to implement them in ways no airline has ever done. From redesigning the plane interior to eliminate overhead cabin luggage that would decrease load/unload times, to making the middle seat more desirable by having a sponsor. And, if that sponsor were Beats, maybe there’s a nice new set of headphones waiting for you when you board. 

The whole concept of Poppi Air comes down to giving more than you take. It sets big goals and finds ways to achieve them. They might be a bit out of reach for current airlines today, but if Poppi did exist, I’d fly with them every time.

6. Montreal Canadiens Tricolor Laces

These skate laces represent the 5 values of the organization and allow the players, or any wearers, to literally tie themselves to the team’s cause. There are 5 lace designs, each representing one of those 5 values. 

The project is about the laces themselves, but the design team builds upon that with other designs and patterns inspired by them; it expands into the colors and type as well. 

How everything works together feels like a completed puzzle, where each piece fits together perfectly with the next to support a larger image. There are just so many ideas and creativity stemming from a single skate lace and it makes me want to see what they’ll add next; very impressive. 

5. TV Land On-Air Package
Designed By: Roger

This on-air package reminds me a little of one of my 2014 favorites, IFC. Not that the two are too similar in look, but that they both blend a retro feel with modern aesthetics, and set their brands apart from everything else on TV. 

TV Land no longer seems to be about showing old shows exclusively anymore, but the identity definitely looks like it takes some cues from the likes of Bewitched and Gunsmoke. It feels like “old TV” in the best of ways. Each of their current shows has it’s own unique spin, which IFC can’t say. 

You might guess my favorite part of the system is the use of construction paper to create interesting placeholders for type, and a lot of that type is hand drawn (or brushed) as well. Add in the editor marks and the new logo to the animations and it makes for design I can’t take my eyes off of. It looks like it takes some inspiration from both web design circa 2008-ish where you saw a lot of natural and paper textures used, and Google’s material design which gets better as you stack layers on top of each other. It makes me want to watch TV Land, not for the shows but for the promotional commercials. 

4. Flag of Planet Earth
Designed By: Oskar Pernefeldt

If there is any bravery in design, it is when someone takes on what seems impossible. When someone sets to design something that should fail, but ends up doing it anyway. And when the design is finished and turns out to be something great, it must be acknowledged. 

That’s what this project is. To design a flag that represents Earth is almost doomed to fail from the beginning. There are so many different cultures and people to represent, you’re bound to design something that leaves someone out or hits too close to 1 thing. Yet, this design represents Earth and the people in unity so perfectly well. 

What I admire most is the execution of the mock photos that features everything from astronauts to a delightfully American neighborhood with homes lined with flags. Oh, and this is a student's graduation project; everyone feel bad about yourselves now. 

3. Olympic Heritage
Designed By: Hulse & Durrell

When I first saw this project, I instantly knew it would be on my list of favorites of the year. There are two parts to it, the first being the new logo for Olympic Heritage which is simply the rings in white over “Heritage” text on a gold background.

The Olympic Heritage Collection is a global program that makes the art and design of past Olympic Games available to international licensees. For the first time in history, they can use these materials to create throwback products and merchandise inspired by some of the world's most unforgettable Olympic Games.” - H&D

The design duo worked 3,200 hours and traveled over 30,000 kms, to examine 25,000 Olympic artifacts to re-create digital files of past games identities, getting them up to modern standards. This included remaking some logos from scratch and selecting Pantone colors (shockingly, the PMS didn’t always exist!) to create order and consistency within identities. 

Beginning with the core elements of each Olympic Games identity (emblems, pictograms, mascots, and official posters), we set out to find their most authentic sources. The journey took us from the Olympic Museum archives in Switzerland to Olympic historians, private collections, and past-Games design directors around the world.Where possible, emblems, mascots, and pictograms were re-created with the original techniques of their time. Design manuals originally intended for use with protractors, compasses and paintbrushes became blueprints once again — this time with a digital toolset in mind.

This is the project I am most jealous of this year. It’s a design bucket list item for me to work on an Olympic identity, but to get to work with so many of them at once would be amazing. All those hours worked and miles traveled would have been pure enjoyment for me, and in the end, the Olympic identities are now as good as they were originally intended to be. Very well done Hulse & Durrell!

2. Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue
Designed By: Jon Contino

Alright, this one has an unfair advantage. We’re starting with beautiful, nearly nude girls, and another one of my favorite designers. How could I not love it? But, Jon Contino’s work on the 2015 SI Swimsuit issue separates it from all the ones from the past. Usually, it’s the girls that grab your attention, but I am just as impressed with the type work and layouts. There may not be a better designer of Americana than Contino, and his work feels so authentic here. Its rough-around-the-edges execution pairs perfectly with the gorgeous settings and perfect bodies on the pages. 

This project does something I’ve never seen from an Swimsuit issue - what makes it great isn’t just the beautiful photography or the models, it’s the design around them. The art is just as interesting and eye catching, and that might be the hardest thing to accomplish in design ever. 

1. The New South
Designed By: 70kft, a Studio 360 challenge

This concept project takes the top spot for me because it combines beautiful aesthetic, thoughtful ideas, great execution, and an important American issue. The challenge begins with the dilemma of the Confederate battle flag being a hateful symbol for the southern portion of the US. The question then, could 70kft create a new symbol (not replacing the old) that appropriately represents the South today?

Thesouth.us has a link to a few short podcasts and articles where the creators and Studio 360 talk about the challenges and the process which are certainly worth a listen, or read. Everything about this project represents the kind of design we should all aspire to do, which starts with something that is actually important and can make a positive impact on our world. That kind of design goes beyond branding and flags, and is more accurately called art.

Like the Flag of Earth project, this one takes on the daunting task of creating something new to represent a large region and diverse people. Its the kind of project you fully expect to fail, but I see the end result as a great design that I honestly think could work. It looks great on every piece 70kft put together and I especially love the Rebel ads which feature photos of historically significant southerners with the stripes wrapping around them. Bold, powerful, and very strong. The only thing I can say I’m not a fan of is the 30 second TV spot which just feels very “typical ad agency-ish”, but I can certainly overlook that enough to admire everything else presented. 

The New South’s criticisms are that the southern states don’t need a symbol of their own, the flag looks like the Valvoline logo, and it doesn’t represent the “true south”. I don’t agree with any of that. The point of the project is to open peoples minds about what a new symbol could be and how the south could be represented; each state has their own flag anyway. The Valvoline logo thing, whatever - everything looks like something else. I even saw a comment that the Dallas agency was “too liberal to create a mark for the south”. . .

Part of what makes the project great is that it comes with a little “edge” and controversy. It challenges the status quo and introduces something new and beautiful. I would be very proud and honored to be part of a project such as this. I hope 70kft and Studio 360 are as well. 

Nov 11, 2015

It's Morphin' Time! - NFL Color Rush Uniforms

Thursday night’s game between the Bills and Jets will be the first of the NFL’s “Color Rush” themed games, which will continue to the end of the season and come back for next year. The concept is that the 2 opposing teams will be dressed from helmet (decals and sometimes facemask, not shells) to cleats in one of the team’s colors, either past or present. The Bills will be featuring their red, while the Jets are dressed in Kelly green which they wore until 1997.

When news broke that the NFL was considering color vs color games, I was really excited. I love the look of 2 teams in clashing colored jerseys on the gridiron. One of my favorite games ever in terms of aesthetics, was the 2010 matchup of the Chiefs and Cowboys. Throwback uniforms, color vs color, on real grass, and a cloudy day - that’s football baby! Proof that the Color Rush games could be one of the highlights of the NFL week.

The point of Color Rush is to give the audience another reason to tune in and give TNF games their own unique touch. Don’t forget about the additional jersey and apparel sales. Those goals are great, and the idea is to feature a team’s color, but the choice to flood 2 teams with 90% 1 color uniforms is so far over the top. The Color Rush gimmick goes all-in on color and turns what could be a delightful experience into an eyeball torture session featuring 2 teams of Power Rangers.

For some, mostly those with good aesthetic taste I would assume, the execution falls short. If you think the NFL needs to do wild and different shit with the uniforms to be more exciting, then the shit doesn’t get much more wild than this - and I have no doubt, those people will enjoy the games. As with most things Roger Goodell has done with the league, this is surely another attempt to shift the median age of the NFL audience to a younger number.

Personally, I believe the NFL has wanted all 32 teams to have a 3rd on-field jersey for many years. We’re not currently in the trend of throwback uniforms anymore, though you see them every year still - that’s just to satisfy the 3rd jersey option. I think the NFL wants their teams to play off the NCAA alternate trend and introduce a new design to their rotation, or at least their TNF rotation which all teams will be required to play once during the season. We’re looking at a future with 4 different jerseys during a 16 (for now) game season.

Enter a green Colts jersey for the Jets, and a red Bills jersey, to open it up.

The only thing that makes a “monochrome” football uniform (when the jersey and pants are matching colors) tolerable is the color, and that usually has to be a dark or neutral one. Yet, it looks like we will see each team fully dressed in their most annoying color. Bright, warm colors are attention whores; you have to use them carefully and it’s easy to use too much, but the Bills will be in solid red.

It’s sad for me to see the NFL choosing extreme gimmick over rational, professional, beautiful uniforms. The games do not have to go all-in on 2 colors to be an entertaining experience that drives merchandise sales. Every other time a game has been a color v color matchup, it’s been tasteful and looked amazing.

These uniforms need less color and more neutrals, more white. Even the Power Rangers had white boots! The NFL celebrates breast cancer awareness with pink accessories like gloves, cleats, towels, sweat bands, etc. They should celebrate the team's colors the same way, and the least they could do is not have a team in a “monochrome” jersey/pants/socks pairing. However, the worst offense is altering the uniforms in a way that puts a team in another team’s jersey design - I mean, the Jets are wearing a green Colts jersey! WTF!?

I don’t want to come off as an old dude longing for the days of yesteryear because the NFL has done something new. The point is, this is not something that will only take some getting used to for it to be understood and accepted as "good" because it’s not good design to begin with. The Bills will march  out with 11 grown men dressed in a bright red Santa suit, the Jets in Gumby gear, the Jaguars in Goldmember jumpsuits, and Panthers in baby blue onesies.