When you’re standing in front of a sales display of disc golf discs you find yourself scanning the entire rack, trying to figure out which disc you should purchase next. You’re doing this initially not by feel, but with your eyes. You might find yourself drawn to a certain color of disc, hot stamp, or a name. As with nearly every other product on the market today, designs for disc golf discs go through the same detailed process to ensure the final product is the best way to market the new disc.
Levi Wilcox is a part of the design team at Innova Champion Discs. We noticed Wilcox when he first followed us on our various social media networks. We saw his job title and wondered if there was a story behind the world of design at Innova.
After communicating back and forth, we wanted to give an interview a shot. We knew going in so much of what Wilcox does could be called a trade secret and he of course couldn’t talk about future projects that haven’t been announced yet.
Our conversation below showcases just what it takes to put together a new design for a hot stamp and a look inside what it’s like working at Innova.
All Things Disc Golf: How long have you been a disc golfer? How did you get into the sport?
Levi Wilcox: I’ve been playing for a little over 15 years. I grew up in Northern Wisconsin and was lucky enough to be introduced to the sport through Keegan Eschenbauch, the nephew of Madison’s own Brad Wendt. The only course around at that time was Sandy Point, and it was a 45 minute drive. It’s still one of the most technical courses I’ve played to date, and I loved getting out there every chance I could. I played leagues every week and spent most of my summer weekends out there.
All Things Disc Golf: When did you join Innova Discs? How did you get started with them?
Levi Wilcox: I joined Innova in 2005. I had just graduated and moved from Madison, WI to Rancho Cucamonga, CA. Being a disc golfer, I was excited to move to Rancho and I was hoping to at least get a tour or something since I was living so close. One day, I was between interviews and I decided to send my portfolio to Innova. I didn’t see any openings, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to let them know that I had just moved here, and was looking for design work in case they had any positions available in the future. Needless to say, I was blown away when I got a call from Sam Ferrans the next day. He explained that they had just started looking for another designer so my timing couldn’t be better. I went in for an interview shortly after and met with Tim Selinske and Sam.
If you had asked what my dream job was in college, designing for Innova was probably at top of the list, so I was pretty excited. I worked part time for a probational period and was brought in full time a couple months later.
All Things Disc Golf: Your title at Innova is Multimedia Designer. What does that entail?
Levi Wilcox: I work with the head designer at Innova East, Matt Peckham, on a lot of projects, but we wear a lot of hats at Innova West. Just to give you an idea, some of the stuff I’ve worked on is: hot-stamp template design, custom disc art, die purchasing, website design/development/maintenance, apparel design, product photography, event photography, printed materials like brochures, instruction sets, POP displays, product packaging, calendars, catalogs, digital asset management, social media management, giveaways, video filming/editing, tech support, product testing and even updating order forms.
All Things Disc Golf: Being responsible for the hot stamp design, do you have a favorite hot stamp that you’ve created? Dare we ask, a least favorite?
Levi Wilcox: It’s difficult to name just one. As far as stock art, I’d have to say the Cro and the Destroyer are a couple of my favorite character designs. For custom stamps, there’s a couple Japan Open designs that really turned out great like the Sakura Tree, Fire Face/Frost Face. Some honorable mentions would be the 2012 Christmas design and the 2009 West Coast Pumpkin design. I can’t really come up with a least favorite of my stamps but there are a couple stock stamps, like the Beast and Orc, that I’d like to opportunity to redesign in the future.
All Things Disc Golf: What is more difficult? Making a clean look like the Star or Champion hot stamps, or something like a new DX design?
Levi Wilcox: They can both be really challenging. Sometimes a name doesn’t always have a clear direction for the character on DX discs. In the same respect, it can be really difficult to make a template that accommodates 3 to 10 letter names as well as display a clean, modern feel without being oversimplified. The clean template definitely takes more time initially, but once it’s created, dropping in disc names and stats is the easy part. Usually I’m lucky enough to focus on a single DX character at a time, but having multiple carapace designs at once would also be challenging. I guess the difficulty really depends on the amount of designs required. I’d rather come up with a clean template design for 10 models over creating 5 DX characters.
All Things Disc Golf: How many revisions does a hot stamp go through until it gets put into production?
Levi Wilcox: Sometimes dozens. Sometimes it’s one of two or three choices. The templates like Star/Champion are usually set so new models in those plastics are often approved quickly while some special edition or holiday stamps can be half a dozen options. Even when a design is chosen, it usually goes through a couple revisions to make it more hot-stamp friendly.
All Things Disc Golf: Has Innova ever named a disc because of a hot stamp design?
Levi Wilcox: Discs are usually named a while before hot-stamp art is even thought about. To my knowledge, a disc name has never been based off a pre-existing design. However, some model names have definitely inspired great designs. And while it’s not directly responsible for a model name, the 2013 pumpkin design inspired it’s nickname this year.
All Things Disc Golf: Has there been a hot stamp that you’ve really liked, but once it starts to be used, it has a lot of fall outs, or isn’t coming out as planned?
Levi Wilcox: When creating a design that will be hot-stamped, the technical limits are always in the back of my head. Hot-stamping is a double edged sword so to speak. Dies are created by printing a mirror image on the surface of a metal plate and acid washing the unexposed areas to create relief. The die is then heated up and foil passes underneath as the die is pressed onto the disc. Large coverage areas usually take more heat and dwell time while thin line art requires less of both. Combining thin lines with heavy coverage areas usually results in the thin areas cutting into the disc. Stamps turn out best when lines aren’t extremely thin or thick. Having said that, I try to push the limits as often as possible. The 2012 Christmas design and the recent Pro Pig design are good examples of heavy coverage with styled relief. It should also be said that our hot-stampers are pretty awesome and most of them have been doing this for quite a while, so we get away with some pretty crazy stuff. But anyways, to answer your question, the Blizzard template went through several versions and although some of the elements I created were used, an alternate layout was chosen. The modified layout ended up being slightly too small and we had some bridging (foil that covers areas it shouldn’t, like the inside of an “a”). All the elements were enlarged by about 20% and that’s what the Blizzard template still is today.
All Things Disc Golf: What’s it like when you get word of a new disc or product that isn’t publicly known yet?
Levi Wilcox: It’s exciting to say the least. You never know when Dave has cooked up the next Destroyer or TeeBird. There is a little bit of secrecy involved before a public announcement, but that’s mainly online. I usually start brainstorming as soon as I hear about it. I’m constantly thinking of design and typography even when I’m off the clock. When I see ads or designs I like, I think about what exactly I like about them and try to incorporate those concepts into my projects when appropriate. Every idea isn’t relevant to what I’m currently working on, but there are times when things just fall into place as well.
All Things Disc Golf: Best part about working at Innova?
Levi Wilcox: Even with the employee discount, I’d still have to say the best part of working here is the people. There’s a really great group of people here that have the same passion and pride about disc golf. We want to share the game with as many people as possible.
All Things Disc Golf: Anything else you want to cover?
Levi Wilcox: Just wanted to say thanks to All Things Disc Golf for the interview. I’m really glad to finally see some reputable disc golf blogs. I think the sport has been missing that online and I couldn’t be happier watching them emerge. Best of luck with your site!
Thanks to Wilcox for the kind words and participating with the interview. We certainly enjoyed hearing the process that Wilcox and the other designers go through to make sure the final design is the best option. You can follow Wilcox on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.
Keep your eyes open for more great designs from Innova and Wilcox!