/ 31 July 2018

Putting a Bow on the Ribbon Project

32 designs. 32 shirts. 40* posters. Designing for the 2018 World Cup was a blast.

Well, that was fun. If you’re just catching up, here’s the deal: I designed 32 unique “ribbons” for the 2018 World Cup – one for each participating country. Care and research went into the visual design of each ribbon. Each represents its country in a uniquely vibrant way.

(If you want to go back and read about each ribbon design, here’s how: start with the Intro piece, and then hit the articles for Group A, B, C, D, E, F, G and H before coming back here.)

I published pieces on the ribbons during May and early June. We made shirts and posters that showcased them (check out Clean Sheet Co. for both). A ton of you supported our work, ordered and wore our stuff throughout the World Cup. And you’re still buying shirts. Thank you!

Also, you know, they played some actual games, France won the tournament, etc.

It’s been a couple weeks since the World Cup ended. I have some more in store for the Ribbon concept, including a few more really interesting Clean Sheet Co. products on the horizon. (One great thing about the ribbons is that they’re timeless; they aren’t tied to this past tournament.)

But today, I want to talk about one final 2018 World Cup application for our work. It’s something near and dear to me. To get there, I’ll have to give the slightest of back stories.

Bear with me.

My career has always pulled me between technology and the arts. Luckily, I grew up during the dawn of the internet, when those two things often overlapped. I became a web developer, and then a digital strategist, because the work frequently involved thinking like a technologist and a designer at the same time.

Sometimes, one side tugs harder than the other. Sure, I’ve gotten more formal training as a developer and a technologist. But the pull of pure visual design is strong. It’s something I absolutely love to do (and a big reason I founded Clean Sheet Co.).

A huge influence of mine is Edward Tufte. Many of you will know about his work, which aims to elevate information design, and celebrate it for both its clarity and its innate beauty. Tufte’s work, as both a creator and a curator of information design technique, is directly applicable to anyone who deals with the web (as I have throughout my career), anyone who creates visuals, and anyone who cares about telling meaningful stories.

Uniquely, the work Tufte talks about lights up both sides of my brain. The technologist side salivates at the possibility of clearly communicating ideas through logically-structured presentation. And the visual designer’s eyes widen at the sheer, useful beauty of the work he discusses.

Edward Tufte’s favorite example of information design does not come from the web era. It predates electricity, let alone the internet. It was created almost a hundred and fifty years ago.

This is the Minard Map. Edward Tufte calls it “the best statistical graphic ever drawn”. Knowing much less than Tufte, I am inclined to agree.

The map – yes, it is a map – shows something extraordinary. It’s the story of Napoleon’s army as it marched into Russia during the fall, and then winter, of 1812, and retreated during the spring of 1813. The graphic contains a stunning six dimensions of data: two dimensions of geography (where the army was), army size (how many men the force had, represented by the width of the line), if the army was attacking (tan) or retreating (black), temperature (along the bottom) and time.

It tells a wrenchingly clear story. (Spoiler: things ended badly for France.) And it’s astoundingly beautiful.

This graphic, created by hand in 1869 by Charles Joseph Minard, is a holy grail for those of use who love visual design in the service of communication.

That concept – design that communicates meaning – is what I feel sets my work, and the work produced by Clean Sheet Co., apart. It’s not just design for design’s sake. It’s purposeful communication, even storytelling, wrapped up in something beautifully succinct.

Why get into the Tufte and the Minard Map now?

It’s simple. First, the longer I worked on the ribbon concept, the more I thought about Minard. His map uses a vector – the long, ever-thinning line – to represent data. I started to thing about the ribbons doing that same kind of work.

Second, I had already made team and group posters… but knew I wanted to create a tournament poster to complete the project.

And third, the Minard piece tells the story of a French excursion to Moscow in search of glory. It didn’t work out for France in 1812. We’ve come a long way since Napoleon. In a much different context, and in an infinitely friendlier way, in 2018, France journeyed to Moscow and conquered the world.

So: I designed a poster, influenced by Minard, about the 2018 World Cup.

Inspired by France, Russia, the World Cup, Minard, Tufte and everyone who’s enjoyed and supported the Ribbon project, this poster is the final piece in Clean Sheet Co.’s 2018 World Cup collection.

The Tournament Poster.

(*this makes poster number 41.)

What’s going on? Well, the tournament starts at the left side with all 32 teams, represented by their ribbons and stacked in their World Cup groups.  As time progresses, left to right, the size of a team’s ribbon grows in proportion to its fortunes – roughly doubling in width for every stage in the tourney it attains.  After two weeks of group play, teams are paired for the knockout rounds. If you see a ribbon disappear, that indicates the end of a team’s tournament run. From the round of 16 on, a ribbon that overtakes another represents a victory by the overlapping nation.

Take Sweden, for instance: the Dala-horse inspired yellow ribbon with blue ovals. You can follow the Swedish ribbon as it progresses through the group stage, ends up winning Group F over Mexico, gets paired with (and beats) Switzerland (red ribbon with white crosses), and is then overtaken by England (tweed-inspired navy ribbon) in the quarterfinals.

Or, take France. Hint: it’s the cream-colored Breton Stripe-inspired ribbon that, well, only grows wider.

In no way does this piece approach the beauty or efficiency of the Minard map. But I do believe it tells a compelling story about the 2018 World Cup. And as a piece of art, I have to say, I find it visually interesting.

The Clean Sheet Co. Tournament Poster is a limited print. Each 13″ x 32″ piece will be gicleé printed on beautiful UltraSmooth Fine Art archival stock, then hand-signed and numbered.

We’re making exactly 64, one for every match in the World Cup. Each print is $64. When they’re gone, that’s it. I loved creating this poster. It’s available for pre-order now. We’ll produce the run in August, and the poster ships in September.

This isn’t the end of the Ribbon concept. We’ve got more to come. But as far as the 2018 World Cup, with a hat tip to Tufte and Minard, that’s a wrap.