Having worked in apparel design for over 14 years, I can’t help but look at t-shirt art whenever it walks by. I’ve had so many experiences and so much fun designing on good old polyester and cotton, that I can’t help but notice when a design does not quite work. I’ve designed media across the board, from websites to billboards, water bottles to hats. Each of these designs involves a different approach, so why should t-shirts be any different?
I love t-shirts because everyone wears them. They’re a great product when it comes to exposure. Businesses love to give them away. And people love getting them for free.
Most of us are very conscious about the items we wear. Notice I say most of us. We want our shirts to say what we feel. It’s a means of self-expression. And I’ve never wanted to wear a boring shirt with a silly corporate logo. I like to wear cool shirts…something such as an old school Pink Floyd design. What I don’t want the design to say is “Hey! Look at this free dorky shirt I got!”
Now every media canvas should be created around it’s branding, but t-shirts are the one exception (I can hear Pandora’s box open). It’s a sacrifice that should be considered. If you want people to wear your shirt, then they have to want to wear them. Shirts are one of the few giveaways with high possibilities for being used (worn in this case), and therefore exposed. Exposure is the purpose here.
Clients want to see their branding on shirts, but a lot of times the branding is not shirt-design friendly. Now there are two things that should go into every shirt to increase the possibility of being worn – I’m talking about giveaways here, but this can definitely apply to purchased store items. One is that the design should appeal to the wearer; two, the shirt should be sized appropriately.
Now I won’t go on about what happens when the demographic is ignored – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a X-Large shirt giveaway order come through for a 6th grade cheerleader camp. What I’m talking about here is when someone wants to translate their creative – such as all the information off their website – onto a shirt; data, branding, and all (I’m exaggerating here, but sometimes it feels like that’s what they’re asking). Now I know the person ordering the shirt may be excited to wear that shirt, but for someone else it would end up in the rag pile, later used to wipe the spilled gas off of a lawnmower. Trust me, I can afford to spill gas for the next three mowing seasons.
Shirt designs should be simple and artsy. Dare I say fun to wear? I just did.
Check out some of these shirts off of myteespot.com. There are a couple good examples of shirts – the Pink Floyd and Eggo are the better of the bunch. I’m not crazy about the Jolt or Coca-Cola – I think they put a little too much focus on the brand name. But the Eggo one does a good job putting branding aside and treating the creative with a retro/pop culture look.
As an artist, I’ve worn shirts purely for the design and for no other reason at all. I would even go far to say that I would pay $15 for a good looking design. Believe me, when you realize that these shirts only cost $1.30 to make, it’s hard to spend $15 on one.
So next time you order a bunch of giveaways for your event, think about what the demographic would want to wear out. Ask yourself if you would wear it – or better yet, ask someone else if they would wear it. Go for the ringer tee with a cool distressed retro look. Spending a little more for that colored shirt and a “wearable” design can pay off in the long run. After all, would you pay to make a commercial you know would not air?
Put your focus towards a better product. Don’t waste money on apparel no one will wear. Otherwise you’ll just end up losing the shirt off your back.