How to Win at Design by Humans

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How to Win at Design By Humans

I talked with Marc Hemeon, one of the brilliant minds behind the t-shirt design contest site Design by Humans. If you can remember, they were the only company able to pull off the impossible Bold is Beautiful shirt a few months back. Oliver had also won Shirt of the Month with his Concentric Downpour tee.

So, just how does one go about making winning tees at DBH? Marc gives us 5 tips to give yourself the best chance of winning the next Shirt of the Day.

1. Prepare Artwork at Final Production Size.

On our design submission page we have a footnote which reminds artists to have a high-res print ready version of their artwork ready to go if their artwork is selected as a winner. We get pretty bummed out we contact a winning artist only to find out he or she does not have a high-res version of their artwork ready for print.

Many artists work exclusively in Illustrator or other vector based program which allows for the greatest flexibility when it comes to sizing and placement of the artwork without losing quality of the design.

If you are designing exclusively in a pixel based program like Photoshop then you really need to ensure you are designing your artwork at the correct resolution. For example, if you were to design a center chest graphic and the design was 12 inches wide by 14 inches tall then your Photoshop file should be set to 300 dpi (300 dpi is the minimum resolution we will accept for final artwork) or 3,600 pixels wide and 4,200 pixels tall.

Double check how your artwork will be represented on various t-shirt sizes (view the size chart of the tees you are designing for). The canvas size varies greatly between a small girl’s shirt and a XXL men’s shirt. Occasionally we will create a separate set of screens for the girl’s shirts to shrink the artwork to accommodate the smaller t-shirt size. Producing your artwork for the largest t-size allows us to easily size the design down to create a second set of screens for the girls version. Sizing up low res artwork creates a big hot pixilated mess.

2. Push your design with the reasonable use of mixed media.

There is a huge trend right now in graphic tees to include various mixed media elements to enhance the underlying illustration. Mixed media is a broad term to include the various bonus techniques currently offered by the more advanced t-shirt printing companies. Some examples include burnout, discharge, embroidery, appliqué, metallic and foil inks.

One caveat, using mixed media in addition to your illustration is a bit like learning how to make drop shadows with Photoshop – meaning just because you CAN use mixed media does not mean you necessarily SHOULD.

Mixed media should enhance the artwork and drive home the theme and feeling of the design. One effective way of calling out mixed media is representing the shapes, lines and placement in a separate layer when working with Illustrator or Photoshop. Use one layer for each type of mixed media, labeling your layers by the mixed media type.

For example your design could call for an appliqué a of a silk screened heart on top of a silk screened t-shirt attached with thick embroidery. The embroidery stitching can be displayed to represent brush like strokes and texture into your designs. So, say you have a cool illustration of Tom Selleck on a tee, you could use embroidery for his hairy chest, giving a nice tactile feel.

3. Know and call out your colors (Pantone please!)

Bottom line, if an artist has not called out their specific pantone colors then we are left to match against the artwork we see on our computer screens. For the most part we are pretty good at getting colors correct when we have to interpret the colors for the artist (well we should say our color separator, Dan, is excellent at identifying color).

Not everyone has access to a pantone book, we get it, but do your best to identify your colors so there is no misunderstanding. Sometimes we have to make a judgment call based on the design submission and what we think the artist would have wanted. If artists can be very specific in their desired colors then our job of producing their vision is a bit easier.

4. Have your own style

Artistic expression is awesome. We read quite a bit in the blogs and forums about where a design “fits” in regards to finding a home for the design. For DBH we are really excited when we see a fresh voice and style and an artist being true to themselves and not catering to what they think will get the votes. Our suggestion is to use the DBH contest as a forum of expression and to explore yourself as an artist and create meaningful artwork for yourself – we find these pieces resonate more with the DBH community rather than something stereotypical of the latest winning designs. And of course, do not under any circumstances copy someone else’s design (its okay to be inspired by someone, but make it your own).

5. Be Awe-and-then-Some

This last point isn’t regarding art prep per se, but a reminder to spend the time necessary to make your piece as awesome as possible to speak volumes at first impression. T-shirt designs are judged in a split second when they are first seen and for most people there is a bit of a love it or over it mentality when it comes to t-shirt design.

We have seen many great concepts which fall short with the execution of the artwork. Get feedback on your designs in the various online forums and subject yourself to the critiquing process. You and your artwork will only get better.

About the Author, Jeff Finley

I'm a partner at Go Media, a Cleveland web design and development firm. We also specialize in print design and branding. I started Weapons of Mass Creation Fest and wrote the book Thread's Not Dead, teaching artists and designers how to start a clothing company. In my spare time, I write songs and play drums in Campfire Conspiracy. I'm a happy husband and an aspiring b-boy and lucid dreamer.

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