I do quite a bit of web surfing looking for inspiration for various projects. 2, maybe 3 years ago, I came across a site that blew me away. Walkdesign is the portfolio of sports designer, Matt Walker. Last year I finally bit the bullet and emailed Matt some simple praise he deserved. I received a quick response and that boosted him in my ranks of online coolness. It’s always a great feeling when someone who’s work you admire takes the time out to email you back.
Well, as most of you know, recently I was laid off. After that occurred I hit twitter, facebook and email harder than ever. One of the people I looked to for advice, and to simply become online friends with (since I work alone now) was Matt Walker. Matt couldn’t have been better about giving me advice and just being all around cool. So I reached out to Matt again to see if would share a little bit of his world, with….the world. He obliged. Enjoy.
How did you get your start doing sports design for athletes?
I always loved sports and art since I was a kid. I spent a lot of time drawing Don Mattingly and Ken O’Brien in class when I should have been paying attention. When I became a professional designer I never lost my passion for sports. I did a lot of volunteer work for various sports projects or fan websites so I could apply my design skills to sports. A close contact of mine knew about my love of sports and design and worked at MLB interactive. He heard that Albert Pujols’ people were looking to build a charity site for Albert and my contact really went out of his way to recommend me. I did a pretty good job with that and it showed I could work in this space for athletes, which was a big deal because trust is very important to them. They need to know you can handle working for them and not have any ulterior motives. After that I was able to work for Barry Zito and his charity Strikeouts for Troops based on my work for Albert. I built a reputation for good work, I was trust worthy and my player sites started to stand out from others sites.
You also work at ESPN. Do you find it difficult to juggle both your fulltime job and your side work?
It can be very hard at times for a number of reasons. The work is very separate. I had my core athlete sites first, but a lot of people think I got them at ESPN, which is funny because I have little or no interaction with athletes in Bristol.
When I am at ESPN I tend to focus more on usability, game play, sponsorship opportunities, etc. When I do work for Walk Design after hours it’s more entrepreneurial and I spend more time focusing on social networking, marketing, branding, etc. So it can be very tiring to balance all of those things all at once. Mentally it can be very hard.
Physically it can be a grind as well. Deadlines are deadlines and they all have to be met. In an ideal world I could do well enough at either ESPN or Walk Design that I could just focus on that, but I have 4 kids and a wife that depend on me, so whatever I have to do to pay the bills is what I do.
There are a lot of positives to having the two jobs too. I don’t want to sound all doom and gloom. It’s nice to have variety. Sometimes it’s vital that I get challenged in one area because it keeps my ideas fresh and keeps me motivated across all of my work. It’s also good to be able to always have work. I don’t do well sitting around, I get too antsy and Call of Duty can only fill so much of my time.
Which project was your favorite project to work on and why?
That’s hard to say. I have been at this for over 15 years so I have really had a number of things I really liked for different reasons. I also have certain designs that have defined me and while I appreciate what they stand for, in hind site working on it at the time wasn’t anything more enjoyable than normal. If anything I would say that all of these projects have similar things about them that I loved and that was a difficult challenge that was hard to solve that I was able to make simple. I always want to make things easy to use and easy to understand. I love trying to figure out people, they are the ultimate puzzle.
In no particular order, here is a list of projects that I have worked on that have resonated with me for one reason or another: Zamboni logo, Kennedy Gaels logo, CC Sabathia site/iPhone app/iPad app, ESPN Fantasy Sports logos, United For The Troops, Strikeouts For Troops, PitCCh In Foundation, ESPN Tournament Challenge iPhone App, Nick Swisher’s Dirty 30 apparel, Waterford.com (their first ever website), Cartoon Network “How To Draw” cereal prizes, ESPN E Ticket Logo
What’s the coolest experience you’ve had, dealing with athletes or the sports world?
2 moments stick out to me here;
The first one was the first time I was ever a special guest on a Major League Baseball field. I was able to watch the White Sox take closed to the public batting practice and sit in the dugout at U.S. Cellular Field in Chicago. I sat next to Ozzie Guillen and Ken Williams while they discussed business and I was able to just take it all in. I was a guest of Nick Swishers, so when he was done he came in the dugout and we shot the breeze for a while and I just felt like I was part of something special. For the first time of working for these guys for so long, I felt like I was on the inside and I felt like I belonged.
The second time was when I went to Old Yankee Stadium for CC Sabathia’s press conference as a Yankee. I spent most of the day with the Sabathia’s, the Burnett’s and guys like Joe Girardi in the Yankee locker room just hanging out like we were at a friend’s house. When CC made the walk from Old Yankee Stadium to the New Yankee stadium, I walked with CC as crowds gathered and walked with him across the street like something out of a movie. We went right into the new stadium, down the steps on onto the new field right to home plate. I was taking in this amazing new structure in the most ridiculous way you could imagine. The Yankees also let me take special pictures while the New York media had to stay off the grass and wait for me to be done. It was mind blowing to think I was on the field before almost all of the Yankee players. I will always think of that as my first New Yankee stadium memory and I can’t think of too many people who could beat that. After we finished, CC, Steve Reed (a member of CCs team) and I walked back through the bowels of the old stadium through the centerfield entrance and along the darkly lit hallways of the old stadium talking about spending Christmas with our kids. That is something I will never forget.
If there is one dream job you’d want to have, design wise, what would it be or what would you do?
My ultimate dream job (other than making Walk Design a fully functioning design firm) would be to work for the New York Jets as the head of design for their website, social media platforms and mobile apps. They have always been my favorite team in any sport, but more importantly, they truly seem like a great organization from the owner on down who gets the direction the new role of communications in this world.
What advice would you have for anyone, myself included, on how to break into the world of sports design?
I would say to work your ass off. Be creative. Don’t be worried about compensation until you get your foot in the door. Do whatever you have to do to establish a portfolio that would get someone’s attention that you can handle their brand. In my case I did logos or websites for every local sports group, fan site, or idea in my head so that when the time came that I was in front of someone who could give me a shot, I never had to say “well this isn’t exactly what I could” or “I don’t have anything to show you right now”. Study the great sports designers out there. Follow every sports designer on Twitter and try to figure out how they executed their designs and why. Break down the reasons for what they did rather than what they actually presented. Figure out what you could add that they couldn’t. Carve out your spot.
How long did it take you to get to the point you’re at now, dealing with the athletes and organizations that you deal with?
It took me about 5 or 6 years of doing sports stuff until I felt like people know what I offer and know what they get if they go along with me. Now my focus is on creating relationships rather than proving I can do the work.
I know that working with sports, for me, comes along with a lot of hobbies and recreational things that I’m interested as well. Like I’m an avid card collector and that’s branched out into designing my own cards for fun. Is there anything that doing athletic work has led to, in your personal life?
Not really. I am a father of 4 ages 6 and under. I don’t really have hobbies anymore rather than I have distractions like Xbox that help me take my mind off family or work stuff.