Aug 3, 2009

The Designers of Summer

I love baseball. The sport, the history, the stats and even the analogies. I played it all the time growing up and during my summers in high school me and my friends would drive up to Seattle and hang out at the Kingdome all day collecting autographs, catching balls during batting practice and of course enjoying the game. (As much as one could enjoy it, because the Mariners really sucked back then)

I also collected baseball cards growing up. I had an awesome collection with hundreds of some of the best MLB all-stars from rookie all the way through to their retirement. Unfortunately after I graduated from art school it took me eight months to get my first job, the economy like now was pretty bad and I sold my collection to get some quick cash. (I still regret that decision)

In 1997 I accepted a job at Upper Deck Company as a senior designer in their baseball division. I worked at Upper Deck for three years and it was a great experience and I made some awesome friends I still keep in contact with to this day.

I was quickly blown away by how far trading cards had come since I was a collector. In fact you'll find the highest form of print technology in the trading card industry and they're always looking for next form of print tech they can integrate into cards.

Some of the technologies I designed for were:
- Printing full-color with multiple spot colors
- Metallic Inks
- Foil Stamping
- Embossing
- Die-Cutting
- Laser Cutting
- Holographic Foil and Imagery
- Custom Packaging and Paper Engineering
- Flexography
- Embroidery

The following is a grab bag sampling of a few of the hundreds of trading cards etc. I designed at Upper Deck.

1998 UD3™ card design.

The approach I took with this set was to make the card itself look like a high tech user interface. The design integrated a multitude of print technologies and I really liked how the whole set came out.

As in every industry however they're are always critics and the trading card industry is legion with them. One guy that goes by the name of "Bull Dog" made the following comment on the above design.

"This card set has everything but the kitchen sink. I hate it."

Maybe Bull Dog was right seeing as this card is worth a whopping quarter now?

Victory™ brand logo design.

I designed several brand logos for Upper Deck while I worked there and unfortunately Victory™ is one of them. I say that because I had exactly half a day to design a brand logo and at the end of that day we were going to meet with marketing and pick a direction for this new line of product.

I had done about 3-4 designs and put them up in the conference room along with other designers concepts and than at the last moment I stuck this one up. I didn't really like it that much but thought "One more won't hurt."

Well, guess which one marketing loved. Yep, dumb move and all the other designers groaned knowing they'd have to work this beast into their designs. I got a lot of sarcastic feedback from my fellow creatives over that one and it was all well deserved too.

Victory™ brand card design.

The Victory™ brand by Upper Deck was like the Toyota Tercel of Upper Decks products. No frills, basic full-color printing and not much else. But I still tried to make the design as interesting as I could for the childhood collectors who this was targeted at. (Nevermind the hideous logo I cursed our department with)

Another Victory™ brand insert card.

When designing cards at Upper Deck we had access to a photo room that archived thousands of pictures of pro athletes. I could pull the slides and scan them for my specific design and to use in my final mechanicals. The photo guys would use my design as a guide to pick the remaining set of player photos, and production would use my digital files to set up the gang run of all the cards.

"A Piece of History" Babe Ruth bat card.

Upper Deck is the industry leader when it comes to sports collectibles, creating unique one of a kind products for very avid fans of professional sports. Not every fan can afford an original bat used by Babe Ruth however, so Upper Deck purchased one from Sotheby's and decided to share the wealth with collectors everywhere by putting pieces of the bat on trading cards.

They had me design the official branded card that would showcase this piece of history.

As much fun as this project was the absolute best part of it was being able to handle this bat myself and take a few swings with it. Knowing it was destined to be cut into pieces, I insisted we photograph it and use that image in the card design as well. One VP at Upper Deck liked my work so much he gave me one of the cards when it was finally produced.

1999 Upper Deck Encore insert card.

This image doesn't do this card justice. It has a nice rainbow foil substrate it was printed on along with silver foil stamping. This was one of my favorite insert cards I designed while working there IMO.

1999 Upper Deck Century insert card.

I was kind of like a roaming designer at Upper Deck, I'd work on MLB, NBA, NFL and in this case NHL product lines. I know nothing about hockey, but due to the popularity of the whole "Techno" vibe I had developed for the other sports we adapted it to the new set of hockey cards.

1999 Upper Deck Retro brand foil pack design.

Foil pack design was always a hit or miss form of printing. Sometimes the flexography came out nice and other times it looked like a retarded monkey printed it. This specific design worked well for flexo.

1998 Upper Deck bobblehead cards.

One friend I made at Upper Deck was a very talented lead designer named Wayne Wilcoxen. The guy is brilliant when it comes to paper engineering (Anything actually) and he figured out a production method that allowed a card to lay flat in the package but once opened could be assembled into a paper bobble head doll.

I helped in picking the photos and did all the illustrations for the various sports. If I had these growing up they would have been no-brainer bb gun targets. ;-P

1999 Upper Deck PowerDeck CD card designs.

Upper Deck has never been shy about trying new approaches to trading card collecting. These CD cards had short videos on them, audio, interactive menus, and stats. All though well intentioned this product was not very well received by the collecting community. Simply put they prefer paper products.

Now if Upper Deck could integrate a Harry Potter like interactive paper experience they may have something they could bank on.

1999 Upper Deck PowerDeck POP mobile design.

This picture makes it hard to determine the scale of this mobile but the pyramid part of it was about 14 inches square at the top. I was responsible for all the marketing pieces for this new product launch and when it bombed the marketing guy I was working with (One of the nicest marketing people I've ever worked with BTW) was fired.

It's been nearly a decade since I worked at Upper Deck but they are a client of mine now and I still create a variety of work for them and consider my former employer one of the best jobs I ever had.


Lateef said...

Awesome. What a great post -- thanks for sharing - as a design/print guy and a former baseball card collector this is great nostalgia.

The "Piece of History" baseball card is creative marketing at its best. Upper Deck invested so much money to buy an authentic bat, knowing that these cards would generate so much brand-loyalty, paying off in the long run.

Mike Kovatch said...

I too am a former employee of Upper Deck and a Designer as well...Your card designs are awesome...your post actually made me miss the good old Stomping Grounds...FYI Wayne is probably the only reason UD Still exists...He is almost as cool as Vincint. LOL


Amatatomba said...

Awesome post. When I was little, I collected basketball cards. We would buy them in these packages that had 10 random packs in them and the best part was always seeing what you got. I just dug the binder out and put them in a pile to be sold at a garage sale soon. This post makes me want to go back and look at them.