[Editor’s Note: With the Uni Watch membership program winding down (it will end when I leave the site in late May), card designer Scott M.X. Turner came up with the idea of a weekly series in which he looks back at some of his favorite card designs. Here’s the first installment. Enjoy! — PL]
By Scott M.X. Turner
Back in 2007, Paul launched the Uni Watch Membership Program. It’s a lot of work — seriously, a lot of work — but mainly for Paul, who has to handle all the logistics. Me? I draw each member’s request on a computer and do lots of additional photo research to make sure we get everything right. I do love the research part.
It’s been fantastic seeing what each member has requested. It’s always a challenge for me and Paul to get it just right. These designs are hand-rendered — I don’t have a program or an app where I just input a name, number, and team and out pops the design. Wouldn’t do that if I could, because the results generated by that type of approach are never quite right. Humans design, cut, affix, sew, and wear the things we’re basing your card’s artwork on. Your card should be made by humans, too.
Paul and I have created a lot of cards over the past 17 years. The current count in the Flickr gallery is 3,371. Paul and I (well, mostly I) feel like that’s a significant enough body of work to deserve a retrospective before he leaves Uni Watch in about four months, so we’re launching this new weekly series, called Remembership, where I will look back through some of the more notable designs. Some weeks will be devoted to a specific category; other times, the category might simply be “I really like these.”
Before we get to this week’s category, I want to give you a sense of how far the membership card program has come. We produce the cards in sheets of eight. Here’s the very first sheet we ever did:
Simple — names and numbers. That’s what Paul and I envisioned the program being. It was a bold move when a member asked for a uni design that didn’t have an NOB, just the number.
Now, 17 years later, a sheet often looks like this:
Along the way, we’ve done card designs based on helmets (baseball, football, motorsports), stadium infrastructure, band uniforms, landmarks, banners, playing surfaces, referees and umpires, mascot costumes, a championship ring, a belt buckle, a sumo wrestler’s mawashi (satin padded belt), a tennis shirt’s cat motif, a wrestler’s rhinestone-festooned robe, Olympic athletes’ pin-on numbers, jockey silks, scarves, and more. In response to member requests, we’ve also included smudges, dirt stains, and torn fabric. We’ve done designs that reference other Uni Watch items (meta!), and we’ve done one design based on how the member’s eyesight processes jersey letters and numbers.
In between the simplicity of that first sheet and the complexity of the other one, there have been lots of interesting sub-niches. Such as…
This Week’s Remembership Category: Places
Humans connect to places. Our memories are rooted there — memories of our first time at the ballpark, stadium, or arena. That magical night when the team won it all. Talking to a stranger in the next seat during a meaningless game.
Twenty members over the years have asked us to depict places. Sometimes they tell Paul their stories. I get the assignment and forge ahead. For a few of these, the connection is obvious just by glimpsing the artwork. Camden Yards on the night of Cal Ripken Jr.’s consecutive-game record; the ivy wall at Wrigley Field and, separately, its hand-operated scoreboard with the Cubs leading 10-0 at the end of the first inning; Notre Dame’s classic end zone. Others may be rooted in the member’s personal experience. Either way, they’re all special. Here are eight examples:
Recreating the places that members request is rewarding. It’s also time-consuming. A lot of these designs involve a lot of trial and error. It’s great when I can crack the code — the ivy leaves, the seam in the padded Shea Stadium wall, the slight overlap of the lettering in the Ravens’ end zone. Sometimes the only code is “Just start laying out those yard markers.” I save these intensive designs for the end of each sheet. Knowing that I’ve finished seven name-and-number designs makes these complex requests easier.
Confession: Two of these designs — the Duke basketball floor and the Supe design — were provided by the members themselves, who actually sent the artwork to Paul along with their membership orders. So too with the Boston Garden parquet floor on the next sheet I’m about to show you. Fantastic! Ready to rock! It lets us get those cards to the members so much faster.
Two of these were particularly tricky. For Kimmerlein’s, in addition to creating an entire entrance to a mid-century stadium, I had to render his name using Memorial Stadium’s deco font. And for the Fenway park treatment, I tried to capture the ghost number behind the current “310.” Look closely, it’s there.
So that’s 16 of the 20 places. Here are the last four:
A real Rust Belt collection, this last group. Paul and I differed on the proper width of the boards in the Dayton design (hard to see, but they’re there). That floor is long gone, as are Chicago Stadium and Cleveland Stadium. Ryan Lindemann asked us to use his name in place of the CTA sign’s “to 95/Dan Ryan.” Innovative!
Sometimes replicating what the players wore or the signage looked like means replicating mistakes — uneven arching, bad kerning, weird layouts. Such is the case with the Chicago Stadium “Gate 3 1/2” layout.
So that’s our first installment of Remembership. If you have questions, I’ll monitor the comments section each Friday and reply as best I can.
Next week: Uniform fails.
Paul here. I could write a lot — like a lot — about the membership card project, but I’ll try to keep this short:
- Scott is being too modest. The amount of work and care he puts into the card designs is staggering. He also has an infectious sense of enthusiasm about the whole project. The fact that he came up with the idea for this weekly retrospective series is very much in keeping with that.
- Speaking of Scott: When I first proposed the membership card project to him back in 2007, my idea was that we would just render each member’s number and NOB in “Uni Watch colors.” It was Scott’s idea to let people base the cards on real-life sports jerseys. I initially thought that would be too challenging, too much work, too overwhelming, but he insisted that we try it. And I’m so glad that he did, because it resulted in a very creatively satisfying project.
- I didn’t really expect a lot of people to sign up for a card. In fact, my initial thought was to have a 100-member “roster,” with each number from 0 to 99 assigned exclusively to a single person. So if one person ordered a card with No. 18, that number would no longer be available for anyone else. But it quickly became apparent that we’d have waaaaay more than 100 people signing up. It’s kind of staggering to think that we now have well over 3,000!
- Every one of those 3,000-plus cards has been processed through my trusty laminator, which has held up through the entire 17-year project. I just used it yesterday for our latest batch of cards, in fact! It’s gotten a little creaky over the years, but it still does the job. Amazing!
I could go on — the card project has had endless intricacies and backstories — but I said I’d keep this short. So I’ll just add that none of this would have happened without you folks. Thanks so much for helping to support Uni Watch with all your card purchases, and for making this such a fun and satisfying project to work on. We’ll continue to take membership orders for the next few months, right up to my final day on May 26. Cheers!