Behind The Design: TYLER Merch

March 28, 2020

Something I feel that’s lacking in the design community is transparency in the work we’re doing. Anyone can show their best work on Instagram. But what really went down behind the scenes? What was the process and design decisions made along the way?

I hope to answer those questions in this “Behind the Design” video!

I’m breaking down a recent project: Showing what info I was given from the client, show the sketches, how I executed on those ideas through different iterations, and then show the final product.

With that said, let’s pullback the curtain and go Behind the Design!

This video I’m breaking down a merch design I did for Tyler Sarfert.

I actually designed a shirt for him back in 2016. That went really smooth, so he hit me up again, now a few years later:

Hi Brent! I am contacting you in regards to a new tee shirt design for merch. We worked together in 2016 under my "Tyler Sarfert" project, and I had a great experience. I am taking a new direction musically and brand wise - going under the name: "TYLER" I wanted to get the conversation going. [...] Also, what is your average rate for tee shirt design? Hope I'm asking the right questions. Looking forward to hearing back from you. Thanks, Tyler

I never hop on phone calls to discuss projects. It’s a hassle scheduling calls, and I balance a lot of projects at once, so using email is way more efficient.

However, I worked with Tyler before, so I didn’t hesitate to hop on a call to chat with him and his manager.

In order to answer his question on the cost, I first needed to better understand the scope of the project.

For every project I use a loose piece of computer paper. It’s cheap, recyclable, and being left-handed, I don’t have to worry about the binding of a notebook!

We hopped on a call a few days later and you can see my initial notes and questions.

Questions (in the top-left) for the client call.

Tyler was awesome enough to follow-up the call by emailing me the master of the song, as well as a PDF of ideas and some context to the song and his new branding. This is above and beyond what I would typically get from a client. Most of the time, it’s a simple email saying, “Can you design a shirt for so and so’s song? And have it to me tomorrow.”

A preview of the PDF brief Tyler sent me following or phone call.

Getting extra assets and full transparency is a perk of working with smaller, independent artists.

Now that I know Tyler is looking for a single design focused on his single Bad News, it’s time to jump on the computer and start the design process.

Coming up with the design

With most band merch projects, I start by listening to the music. This instantly paints a picture in my mind. When listening to a song, I’ll start associating colors, shapes, or it may even dig up a memory I have. The point is to get an abstract picture in your head.

Then, I’ll read the lyrics along with the song. The lyrics are what give context to the abstract imagery.

Whatever comes to mind, I thumbnail sketch it and take note on lyrics that stand out.

Rough sketches—Getting the ideas out of my head and onto paper to see what has potential.

I pulled up some photo references of hands and roses, then basically did a quick 10 minute pencil sketch. Then followed up with a flair tip marker.

Originally I was thinking I was going to use this drawing and clean it up. But decided it would be way easier to work with if I just recreated it in Illustrator.

I scanned in the marker sketch, then redrew this with the paintbrush tool, just using my mouse. Then going back in to tweak curves with the pen tool. I typed out the song title in a clean, modern font, and added his logo.

Creating the design in Adobe Illustrator

This is close! But the title and logo seem like an afterthought, and I want to have those incorporated with the design.

I copied this over into a new artboard and reworked it into this. Again, simply using the Paintbrush and Pen Tool.

Original sketch (left) to the cleaned-up, revised vector (right).

Now it’s telling a story!

The line starts in the center of the rose, making up what would be a symbol of falling in love. Once you make-up the hand, you immediately snap out of it, cross out the gesture, and scribble over the text—remembering what you’re tempted in is “bad news”.

The continuous line plays to the surreal vibe he wanted, and now ties the illustration in with the text. It feels like one piece. Then there’s the subtle detail of the line finishing off his signature of his name as well.

From here, I was stoked on it, so I do this rounded effect in Photoshop to pull it all together, bringing it back in and Live Tracing it. This gives it a more drawn feel. Added some color for the rose and type. I then mocked up some options and sent this off for feedback!

I always try to send an art preview (right) and a mockup of what the shirt would look like (left).

In my email I always try to explain the decisions I made in a design. That helps sell it a bit and gives intention to what might appear as arbitrary to someone who isn’t a designer.

My point here was to sell the story that this line is making, and how it illustrates the story being told in the song.

Tyler loved what I came up with! It’s always an incredible feeling when you nail the project on the first round.

We finalized the colors, he paid for the design in full and I sent over the vector artwork so he could get the shirts in production!

Tyler’s song Bad News is out now, so please go give it a listen! He’s the man for letting me share this "behind the design" with you.

I hope you liked this; getting to see a glimpse inside a real client project.

Thank you so much for taking the time to check this post out. You’re the best! Now, let’s get back to work!

See my latest work and more on Instagram @BrentGalloway