J.S. Dorval – Warrior Design Team
“You have to know its Warrior even without the logo.”
That’s only part of designing a new stick graphic, but it’s a very important part of a larger formula. Coming up with the graphic for each new stick comes with a set of challenges that is unique to hockey sticks. People don’t tend to think of a stick as a difficult canvas to work on, but you have to remember that it has four sides not just two. That detail alone presents it’s own set of challenges.
For the Covert QRL graphic we began a completely new process for designing stick graphics. Previously we had worked in conjunction with an outside designer, not anymore. This time, the graphic would be constructed totally in-house.
The process begins with a Design Brief. No, it’s not some top-secret file that gets dropped on my desk that says “For Your Eyes Only.” It’s actually a file that the Product Manager, Designers and Developers work on as a team with everyone having their part in the end result. We discuss it, explain it and refine it at different meetings to get the go-ahead from marketing, sales, material sourcing, etc.…but it’s basically the synopsis of the project, the file that we continually reference to make sure we’re on track. It includes details such as:
- The type of stick it is (performance wise/technology)
- A look at our previous sticks and the current competitor marketplace
- The type of player(s) that will be using the stick
- Characteristics/features of the stick
- Ties to other sticks (Covert, Dynasty)
The Design Brief is the road map. It’s designing the graphic without actually having a physical stick in-hand.
When we first began to formulate the QRL graphic, we had to look at what we already had with the previous QR1 graphic. For Warrior, the QR1 graphic is iconic. It’s a striking graphic with a color palette that works really well. It’s bold, distinctly Warrior and speaks to the main feature (quick release) of the stick. So, for the new QRL graphic, we knew we wanted to keep the same colors (Covert Blue and Orange) but it couldn’t look the same as the QR1. That was the main challenge for QRL.
We knew the colors; we knew that we really like how the Dagger Taper looks along the back of the shaft but not the asymmetric logos of the graphic. For the QR1 stick there was a bold side of the graphic (with large Warrior logo) and a muted side of the graphic (with small Warrior logo). With QRL we wanted two bold sides. It also had to be more refined than our previous graphic.
What does “more refined” mean? For us it means that first and foremost, it has to look different from our competitors. When you see it in the stick rack, you have to know it’s a Warrior stick. We also wanted the graphic to be detailed when you’re holding the stick up close. Details are key. We pay attention to the tiniest features. For QRL we also wanted to add a third color (white) to the stick to make it uniquely QRL. Finally, the graphic had to have a crisp, fresh look to it.
Let me say this, as a designer, a blank canvas is very tough to work with. Even with the colors outlined and settled on, we didn’t have any constraints. That’s hard. Some sort of boundaries usually helps when you’re designing. Without constraints, picking a direction is extremely difficult.
So how do you make a stick that’s basically a long, narrow, carbon fiber tube look different?
As I said earlier, it’s not just about two sides of the stick; you have to utilize all four sides. On the Covert QRL, you’ll notice that the graphic wraps around the stick. It’s a continuous flow from top to bottom and side to side. We did that because when sticks are on the ice, during play, they are very difficult to tell apart. For the most part, sticks are black. Because of that, we had to put together a design that flashes color as it goes past your eyes. That flash can distinguish which brand a stick is simply by the color and that goes back to what I said earlier, you should know it’s a Warrior stick even if we stripped the logo off. That goes for the orange spike on the back of the shaft or the white and orange at the top of the stick. Those color and application features let you know that the stick is a Warrior Covert QRL.
What makes the stick Warrior? That’s a great question and one that we have to have in mind at all times during the design process. It’s not a simple answer. As I’ve talked about a lot already, color plays a big role. But that’s not all of it.
Our competitors have sticks that look very technical. They look more like science than art. We don’t like that and we don’t want that. At Warrior we want our graphics to thrill and excite the player when you pick up a stick. Or when you see it at your local shop. Or when you see your favorite NHL player using it.
I take a lot of inspiration from snow skis and snowboards. Freestyle skis, in particular, are very fashion forward and non-conventional in terms of graphic design. If you look at a ski you instantly get hit with the colors and design elements but you also get the picture of what that ski does. The graphics and colors do a great job of highlighting the technical features without looking like a science project. Not only that, but you can also tell the difference between freestyle skis and slalom skis simply by looking at the graphics.
That’s the balance that we try to strike with the Warrior stick graphics. With the QRL, you know right away its is a quick releasing, high performance stick by looking at the angles and color features within the graphic. You know instantly that it’s a high-end stick and that’s what we want.
Getting to the final graphic is a long and very involved process. As I said a few paragraphs ago it starts with the Brief. From the Brief the design for the main graphic goes onto paper in the forms of drawings and sketches. The initial drawings encompass everything from different color iterations to different styles and applications and graphic structure. All told for the Covert QRL we put about 200 options on paper at one point or another.
Through the process those 200 designs got funneled down and refined into THREE…yes three, final concepts for the final QRL graphic. I believe the proper phrase in English is, “the cream rises to the top.” That’s exactly what happened during the design and review process for the QRL. It’s not really a science and there’s no recipe to get to the final design, it’s based a lot on feel and feedback. But it always becomes apparent what is going to work the best for each stick and the favorite separates itself from the other designs.
All told it’s a lot of hours of work, a lot of trial and error and sometimes it feels like working in circles but it’s all part of the process. The QRL graphic was a full 12-months in the making from concept to production. From paper to production was 10-months.
We finished work on the Covert QRL graphic in August of 2015 and immediately got to work on our new stick that you’ll see in 2017. Then in December of this year, the Brief for the next Covert stick (2018) will be created and the process will begin again.
The new stick release is always the highlight of the year. It’s nerve racking but also extremely exciting. It’s a lot of work and a lot of pressure. Even with all the pressure for each launch, I’m never satisfied with the final graphic. There’s always something I would change. As a designer, if I am satisfied, I don’t think I’d be doing my job properly. There’s always room to improve.