About a year ago I wrote an article congratulating the football kit design industry. They had, in my mind, reached a point where we no longer needed to scream at them what we wanted in a kit, no longer needed to plead with them that they treat our club or country's colours with respect. They had listened and learnt.
That was, as history will clearly show, a sweeping generalisation. I stand by the sentiment - I believe the last 18 months or so's higher profile kits to be, on average, the best ever - but the professionals still occasionally fall short. Most importantly, I never wanted to give the impression that DesignFootball.com's members were p*ssing in the wind by having a go themselves. I might claim to be abandoning "the desire to see football fans involved in the design process, either by way of consultation, kit votes or simply allowing the fans to design the kits themselves in competitions" but in this I refer to everyday schlubs which have an opinion on everything and an answer to nothing. They have had their say and it's been duly noted. DF's members are a class apart.
The fear I have with fan involvement is that stagnant simplicity will prevail. The current Warrior Liverpool Home kit is a prime example. Fan consultation obviously played a major role - the gold/yellow details and unadorned Liver Bird returned, the collar was simple, there were no cluttered and superfluous added features - and this made for a classic design, but where should it go next? Football fans, on the whole, are not design fans and will be happy with a straightforward and basic kit every season, with little variation, little excitement and, vitally, little need to purchase a new version each year.
That simply won't do. So we leave it to the experts, the designers, the people who are passionate about kit design, who study the history of kits meticulously - those who have the experience of their kits being produced and worn on pitches.
It is with these people that I now categorise DF members. Not universally, but the standard of kit design on this website is, at its best, on a par with what the industry gives us. It also should now be said that the DF galleries' efforts rarely stoop as low as the major manufacturers' worst offerings. Yes, it can be countered that the amateur designers we have are not fully rounded in their knowledge as the professionals are. They don't know which print techniques will work on which fabrics, what the limitations are placed on Techfit or other player issue shirts which bar the use of certain designs, what market research shows will sell and what won't.
Balderdash. The manufacturing of football kits, especially at football design's top table, is now so advanced that, as is the case with technology in all areas of life, anything is possible. Some things may be cheaper than others but in the end it comes down to a guy, in front of a computer screen, making a pretty picture. Anything else can be taught. Don't know what will sell? How well is that Liverpool Third doing?
DF member matupeco woke up one morning, sat in front of a computer screen and made a pretty picture. Tonight, his shirt - which gets better with every viewing - will be worn by Argentinian club Tigre in their first ever Copa Libertadores match. Like a professional, he researched the club's history, he played around with different approaches and he eventually settled on a modern twist on a cult classic. It's football design's no brainer, and it won't work every season, but it's worthy of its position.
He's not the only one. A recent In Bed With Maradona article praised the undoubted talents of another DF member, Amadeus Angelillo (Angelo Trofa). The writer states that IBWM "see a lot of ‘concept’ football kit designs... [but] the majority tend to be identikits of what’s already out there" and AA's work "stands head and shoulders above anything else we’ve witnessed". Really? AA's work is sublime but pay a visit to DF's galleries and IBWM might rethink that. Three years ago, perhaps their assertion would prove correct. No longer.
When I wrote what was surely a mission statement for DF in 2008 I spoke cautiously of "a chance for amateur designers to showcase their work" and of a "hope to become a stepping stone to a related career for many of our contributors". Secretly, I envisaged (or should that be "envisioned"?) a steady run of designers being scouted by Nike and adidas; I looked forward to receiving a weekly confirmation that a popular contributor would soon be jetting off to Holland or Germany to commence a dream career turning around kit project after kit project and outfitting the world's top footballers. I drew comparisions with myspace's impact on the music industry - a DIY ethic garnering popularity and forcing the powers that be to stand up and take notice.
So why, to our knowledge, hasn't this happened? Plenty of our members are graphic designers, many perhaps chose that career path after enjoying the process of creating and uploading to this site, but, for example, the fact that Steevo is not under the employ of adidas or Warrior is not a pity anymore, more a sick joke. He's even doing your baselayers for you! When counterfeiters - and this is no endorsement of their conduct - decide that what Steevo creates either must be a real adidas design or certainly saleable - probably both - then it's time to beam him up, Adi.
Even those with more limited illustrating/image editing skills show the key ingredients in football design: imagination and restraint. Rey has a low resolution template which he works his magic with and Corstorph has that unique quality of, despite surely having his tongue firmly in his cheek for a great proportion of his uploads, still coming up with ideas that demonstrate discerning inventiveness. We've seen lower profile sponsors in the professional game but how about giving squad names the same treatment in commemorative games or moving the main sponsor and the squad name to the shorts to ratchet up the authenticity of retro shirts? It also really puts the "fantasy" into "fantasy kit design" when I can't decide whether I'm more upset that I'll never have Jacqueline Jossa on my arm or never have a particular pair of shorts on my lower body. (I'm lying - it's all about the shorts.)
And that's just a few members. There's Spider, CiaranW90, erikwinterburn... the list will go on and on. Meyer1 is an example of a professional kit designer who has contributed to this site as a peer to the aforementioned and their efforts are comparable to his. MartinLeRoy and everyonesname (Morgan O'Brien) are two others who have seen their creations on the field of play, at a formidable level. We haven't even talked about the fantastic crests - so many contributed by the apparently departed Rabbi - boots and stadiums.
It's true, I'm a grown man - of sorts - writing a largely serious article extolling the virtues of people I largely know only by their online pseudonym. It's also true that those who do work in the football kit design industry have, in many cases, worked extremely hard to get there. They have studied, perhaps completed at least one incredibly specific degree course and then maybe even been forced to take an unpaid training role for a period of time, all in order to fulfil their ambition. No one denies that the incumbents are worthy and, as I have said, they often come up with designs "we" would be hard-pressed to match.
However, this website is unquestionably an ever enlarging pool of talent and, when the industry next needs a new recruit, there's no better place for it to look.
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