Thank you David Pratt, for reminding us this month of the importance of T-shirt design. The resident of the surprisingly stylish Peterborough attracted unwelcome attention from the local authorities recently, while sporting the slogan ‘Don’t annoy me, I’m running out of places to hide the bodies!’ – (an accurate account minus the odd swear word). Mr Pratt was ordered to desist from wearing said threads, or face an £80 fixed penalty fine for potentially causing offence and inciting violence. Last I heard he was following in the footsteps of other great Midland urban warriors and demanding an apology.
Good to know then that T-shirt design still has an impact. In the Pratt genre who can forget ‘ECSTASY MUDDLES YOUR BRIAN’, or the perennial classic of a zimmer frame on its side bearing the legend ‘WHERE’S NANA’? But this is merely the text section of the T-shirt encyclopaedia , unfortunate home of ‘THREE GOOD REASONS TO TEACH…JUNE, JULY AND AUGUST’. There is the fashion section, the promotional, the political, the pictorial and so on, and with these in mind I would like to ask the audacious question, ‘What makes a good T-shirt design?’
Now I’m not going to offer myself up as an arbiter of taste; the fashion police have officially banned me from that position on three counts:
1) A collection of Hawaiin shirts so lurid and distasteful, the very sight of them induces the sensation that you’ve had enough disco biscuits to fuel the Ianapa Massive for an entire season.
2) A previous conviction for posession of a class A mullett with intent to blow dry…..I can’t believe I’ve finally admitted that. There are other crimes I’d like to have taken into account, including tight Glen Hoddle style shorts and snow washed denim, but relax, not here.
3) A 1977 school trip to Venice – what could possibly be wrong with that? Well if you want the exact definition of looking a complete tit look no furthur. Picture the scene, St Mark’s Square, and a young man stands alone with a four button waistline, billowing Lionel Blairs, and high heeled shoes hewn with an axe from solid blocks of oak – I looked like I was wearing Viking long boats!
Meanwhile the locals chino’d, they Vespa’d, they perched their Ray Bans on slicked back hair, wondering if my shirt collars would have someone’s eye out, and where they could buy tickets for the circus……
So that’s me disqualified, but is there an almost scientific group of boxes that if ticked would denote good T-shirt design? If there is, perhaps it might include the following:
Message – is a feeling, a thought or an idea being conveyed? Sounds obvious, but if you’re not reading this in the bath, examine the T-shirt next to you (careful if it’s on a stranger).
Direction – is that message being aimed at a particular audience, and if so is it speaking their language?
Balance – a message conveyed too obviously is one dimensional and without interest; a message made too complex can be unintelligible and so pointless. If you will allow me I will use a lesbian example – at one end of the scale imagine a ‘convertible’ Cadillac with a pink roof – just a cool piece of artwork with a subliminal message for those in the know. At the other end of the ruler, ‘Dip Me In Honey and Throw me to the Lesbians’. One design makes subtle personal comment and provokes discussion, the other is a lads mag freebie for baseball cap wearing Nova drivers – your choice.
Simplicity – with the visual airwaves jam packed with static, maybe less is always more?
Connection – designs are usually part of a collection, and as such need to belong together. Would one be up one’s own jacksy to hope that like a good album, a great T range is a body of work with some common themes?
Current awareness – I guess relevance to trends is important, but like everything this card can be over played. Check out the ‘oh so now’ post Hamnettesque slogan prints. Back in the day they used to say ‘No to Pershing’, now they say ‘Yes to Dogging’ – chuck in some nu-rave neons and you’ve got a range so hot it’ll ignite your chest hair, in the unlikely event you forgot to wax.
Tons of style but whoops, forgot the content – wonder if it’s worth a print a la mode that just says BANDWAGON?
But does content matter any more, or are we just eager consumers of stuff, and then more stuff, topped off with a sprinkle of…..stuff?
TV would suggest that stuff will do nicely – Big Brother, Dog Borstal, Celebrity Inflammable Arse Hair – the last one may not be a real programme, it just should be. Dare I suggest why Big Brother is not entertainment? To be entertained I think we need to watch someone doing something we can’t – sitting in a room swearing repeatedly and breaking wind I can do all day, trust me. If that’s fair comment, then these programmes aren’t entertainment.
Off the subject? I hope not, because I wonder if the same applies to good design. If a collection is just a bunch of nice pictures we think yeah, nice, but I could do that. Maybe the moment of greatness is when we look and think damn, that is completely beyond me. Simple, connected, balanced just at the tipping point, with current directional message.
In short, to swipe a line from someone so much cleverer that me I can’t even remenber their name, ‘Good design, is intellect made visible’
Taking a leaf out of this book I have purchased my olive green T-shirts, I have a pot of black water based ink – I will be printing a photograph of the leader of the Peterborough Republican Army of T-shirt Terrorists. I’m calling the design Che Pratt.
tshirt printing, screen printing, embroidery