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Mar 20, 2019

David Thomas, In His Own Words

At any agency, the company is all too happy to talk about its successes, clients and portfolio of inspiring work. And we’ll be the first to say that we’re no exception. (Have you seen our stuff? It’s awesome.) But sometimes we also like to take a peek behind the curtain and get to know the people and personalities responsible for producing it all. Today, we sit down with one of our art directors, David Thomas, to talk drawing, design and doing what makes you happy.

The Game of Design, By: David Thomas

While there’s nothing quite like the feeling of finalizing a website that you meticulously fine-tuned for months, or finally getting those slick foil, embossed business cards in your hands, my absolute favorite projects are those where I get to illustrate. I’ve been drawing since I was three, and not to boast, but those Power Rangers drawings are still hanging on my Granny’s fridge. Drawing has been my passion my entire life. It’s what I do when I don’t know what to do.

Zafty Games

Not long ago, one of my best friends, Frank Alberts, decided to pursue his passion and started a board game company called Zafty Games. What started out as a bunch of friends playing paper versions of games we made up, soon turned into a legitimate business with merchandise in stores like Barnes & Noble and Target.

Fast forward a few years, Zafty was working on a new game, a cross between two classics: Tic-Tac-Toe and Rock, Paper, Scissors (less commonly known as Roshambo). He called it ToeShamBo. After play-testing the paper version he made, I immediately fell in love with the idea.

A few failed artist’s concepts later, Zafty decided to sell the game idea to another company…only to have them tell us none of the artists they hired could figure out the aesthetic either. Ultimately, they decided to give the rights back to Zafty. And just like that the idea we loved was on life support.

After thinking about it for maybe thirty seconds I told Frank I’d like to take a stab at it. This had all the elements of a perfect project: it was unique, challenging, and most importantly, I was given the creative freedom to design this however I wanted (illustration hype!). I was excited to get to work.


The Design Process

Step 1: Understanding The Details

Like any production, it’s always important for me to wrap my head around what it is I’m designing before getting into it. This helps me understand the target audience and brainstorm elements that would help the player best understand and play the game.

Step 2: Inspiration

Next, it was time to scour the internet for inspiration. There were essentially no limits; if I found it interesting or even slightly relevant, I threw it in a folder. Several hours and a thousand photos of rocks later, my folder was full of ideas. There were patterns, textures, paper sculptures, stickers, and a Smithsonian-level collection of other board game art. I had my treasure chest.

Step 3: Visual Concepting

Now it was time to open it and figure out what was actually valuable. What kind of colors do I use? How should the cards be laid out? What symbols and shapes might help kids and non-English speakers easily understand the game? Just like the previous step, there is no such thing as too many ideas. I let them flow out of me as quickly as they show up

This was by far the most challenging and time-consuming part of the process. It was also the first time failure became a possibility. I spent days working on my first concept only to find it was too abstract. I spent weeks working on my second concept knowing it was way better, only to be told it was too generic. Discouraging as it can be, it’s all part of the growth of the design.

Embracing failure and figuring out what works and what doesn’t is one of the most challenging but rewarding aspects a designer faces. This is what makes us better.

Step 4: Bringing It All To Life

Before jumping back to the drawing board, I decided to look for inspiration elsewhere and took a trip out to various stores that sold board games. Looking through the games, I noticed that they all had some type of distinct personality. Some were vibrant, others had limited color palettes and others had distinct illustrative styles. This was the missing the piece. I needed to incorporate some of this personality into my concepts.

I decided that each of the game’s elements (rock, paper, scissors) would be characters, literally giving each of them a personality. With the go-ahead from Frank, away I went.

Once I had the characters drawn out, everything else quickly fell into place.

Step 5: Design Finalization

I used blue and orange as the primary color palettes for the cards to assist the colorblind. This also served to maintain distinction from the magenta, yellow-orange and teal used in the logo.

I stayed true to Tic-Tac-Toe by using X as the symbol for Scissors and O as the symbol for Rock, and landed on a square as the symbol for Paper.

The end result was a game with quirky, vibrant characters who could grab the attention of kids, alongside a clean and colorful design that never felt necessarily childish. It was a delicate balance, but it paid off: Initial impressions of the game have all come back positive from children and adults alike. The feedback we received complimented not only the aesthetic aspects of the design, but also mention that it lends itself to a better understanding of how the game is played – music to the ears of any graphic designer.

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