The Sons of Ben have been designing banners and merchandise since before the Philadelphia Union was established in 2010. The efforts of the Union’s vibrant supporters group have brought significant attention to not only their efforts, but the efforts of the whole Philadelphia Union organization. On May 29, the Sons of Ben were rewarded for their efforts when they won the People’s Choice Award at the AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) Philadelphia Design Awards for their River Cup 2012 design. The awards, which take place every two years, are presented on behalf of the national conference regional chapter in Philadelphia. Philadelphiaunion.com caught up with the main designer on the project and SoB member, Mark Jenkinson who accepted the award on behalf of his company, Limepickle, Sons of Ben, and the Union's charitable arm, the Philadelphia Union Foundation.
PhiladelphiaUnion.com: What was it like for you to attend the AIGA Philadelphia Design Awards?
Mark Jenkinson: The awards happen every two years and this year was the start of the AIGA design retreat. So we had members flying in from about 65 chapters nationwide. We got a lot of interest in the project. A lot of the work that is in the awards ranges from posters, books and brochures. Then this soccer game with all these photographs on the wall and scarves and people were really interested in it. I got to field a lot of questions with people coming up and asking about who the Sons of Ben were, asking about the Philadelphia Union. It just gave us a chance to talk about all the outreach that we do, tell them about this year’s games and things like that. People seemed genuinely interested.
PU.com: Does sports design bring a different look than a lot of the other works?
MJ: Sports design is a very specific niche and in my experience of 20 odd years, it has been only recently that I have managed to end up with these kinds of projects on my table. It’s fun; it’s what about 90 percent of designers want to work on. So when you see something like this in the awards, especially in a regional award like this, everyone is interested about who the team are, who the supporters group are, how did you get the clients, and all sorts of things like that.
PU.com: What did winning the award mean for everyone involved in the project?
MJ: I think what was really interesting about this is that here is a supporters group, with everyone involved, (The SoB leadership, Union Front Office, and the Foundation), and we were in someone else’s domain and we won. It is just great when something like that happens, to think that possibly to the judges and the other people, when they saw it, it looked kind of fresh to them because it really had a loose vibe going on with a lot of the communication we were working with as opposed to sticking to rigid, corporate brand guidelines. That gave us a lot of latitude and a lot of freedom with the work we put together. I think what it meant to everyone was that it was a big deal but especially because we were in somebody else’s house and we won it.
PU.com: What kinds of feedback have you had from people after winning the award?
MJ: I haven’t had a lot for chance for people to feed back to me. One of the great things was the awareness. There was a lot of people coming up and asking general questions. It obviously doesn’t look like it is a professional soccer team but we are still playing in the stadium and the Union technical staff is playing in Union jerseys and it is a pretty unprecedented kind of event. I think that it gave us a chance to talk about the fact that while we are a supporters group we are also a 501(c)3. We do the “Help Kick Hunger” and we are looking at some other charities at the moment to get involved with. We work with the foundation for Chester United and their outreach program. I got to talk about all those things to these people that some of them were completely unaware of.
PU.com: Has being involved in the Sons of Ben and being consistently around the game of soccer had a big influence on your design work?
MJ: Absolutely; for a lot of sport design, the difficulty when it is done by outside consultants is that it loses the heart. An outside consultancy can go away and design something that can be appropriate and it look great and it can function pretty fundamentally well in the marketplace like companies that design crests for teams, but what is missing with that kind of work is the emotional investment. I think from being inside the Sons of Ben and working with Sons of Ben we cover a whole multitude of items that we design. A lot of those things come from something that happened, something that somebody said, something that happened on the field and it is reactionary. You normally have a couple day window to capture that and we have a whole bunch of guys that do great work with that stuff. I think being involved with that, seeing those guys it can’t but have a positive effect on the work.
PU.com: When in the design process does your expertise really come into play?
MJ: What I need to do professionally through my job is to make sure that work hits a certain standard of finish to be used in all different kinds of media, whether it be on social media, print, jerseys or things that go on the scoreboards. That is where my expertise comes in and helps with that. I understand a lot of different nuances of different applications, but I keep my eyes and ears open when I am in the crowd, I hear things, I react to things, I work with people in the group and we throw ideas around. Being in the group can’t help but have an effect on the work and I think that is the emotional investment and that is what takes the work up a level.
PU.com: Are there any new design plans for this year going forward?
MJ: Well I never really stop. Designing isn’t really a job for me, it is not even really a career. When I am not set at my desk, I am always thinking; I have a sketch book with me pretty much all the time. My entire library is several hundred design books. I am constantly thinking about stuff and with the Union and the sport of soccer I am always getting new ideas.
PU.com: Do you feel a difference when you are designing for the Sons of Ben as compared to designing for a client?
MJ: While at work it may take me two weeks to figure out a design for a client, when I am doing Sons of Ben stuff I try to limit the time on it so I don’t go too far. The minute it goes too far it kind of loses its purpose. It has to have that authenticity in its execution. With the River Cup, one of the interesting things that started to happen with it last year is there was three separate communication strands that started to appear within the project. One was the actual game identity, two, was the Sons of Ben team identity, and three, was the Sons of Ben supporters graphics. So to handle all of that so it became one piece was working in like three different languages. We started on 2013 and I think the game identity itself isn’t going to move too much, but what we try to do it build worlds around it each year so we try to bring a different angle in each year. The longer this goes on the more we are understanding what we can and what we can’t really do within our confines. Last year was a big step up from the first year and then next year we are really going to push it on even further.
Editors note: In addition to winning the People’s Choice award for the River Cup 2012 design, Limepickle also won awards for two other Union projects, which include their scarf design and their work on Team Dinner, the latter yet another success in its third year benefitting Aspergers awareness.
Contact Union writer Howard Hutchinson at firstname.lastname@example.org