How To Design A Basketball For March Madness In Illustrator

March Madness, also known as the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, is the greatest post-season in all of sports. It’s one of my favorite times of the year. This time around, I decided to create a logo that celebrated it’s return.

The concept I had was a basketball in the center with brackets feeding into it. I started with the basketball since that would be centerpiece. A lot of things can be made in Illustrator simply by positioning the right shapes in the right places. I started with the circle. Once I applied the right amount of stroke on the circle path, I copied the circle twice. I positioned the two additional circles so the bottom and top curves, respectively, would line up like they are seen on a basketball. The two crossing bars were applied and positioned to complete the center image.

Cutting away the portion outside of the center was done in three steps:

  1. highlighting everything thus far and doing Object > Path > Outline Stroke
  2. drawing a new circle on top
  3. applying Divide Objects Below and deleting everything outside the main circle.

Step 1 was necessary because I used Stroke to create the weight. If I had attempted to draw the circle and Divide Objects Below in that state, the cut would have been incorrect. I didn’t want the blank center to count as something to cut. The circle(s) must be counted as rings and not full circles.

Cutting stroked circles vs. Cutting circle outlines.

The brackets were pretty easy. I just drew one bracket with the desired weight and copied the positioned the rest. I added the text “March Madness” in the center and used “Unite” Shape Mode in the Pathfinder window. I like to unite the vector paths to make sure there aren’t any small white border lines separating the different layers. Uniting the paths helps ensure that the concept is seen as complete and not an assemblage of parts.

After finishing this and posting on my social media, I saw an interesting thread. Carrington Harrison posted a March Madness style bracket of Kanye West’s best songs – the #KanyeMadnessBracket. Immediately, I started working on a Kanye version of my March Madness concept. I kept the same brackets on the outside and created a simple Kanye West illustration. I used a Kanye photo as reference and made the center image. I started with the head shape and worked on everything fitting within and around it.

Those glasses were chosen because they are iconic and easily recognizable as a past Kanye staple. I played with the colors and even made a graphic for my personal #KanyeMadnessBracket Final Four.

Big events breed big, creative ideas. Glad I was inspired to design a couple of ideas to add to the fun of the season!


Case Study: Torchwood Institute

Torchwood. Outside the government. Beyond the police.

Consider this an extension to my #WhovianBobbie design series. Torchwood is one of the spin-off shows of the incredible television program I’ve grown to love, Doctor Who.

The Torchwood Institute was founded in 1879 to protect Britain from extraterrestrial threats and secure alien technology for Britain. The Torchwood TV show focuses on the small modern day team that is based in Cardiff, Wales.

In this project, I challenged myself to come up with a new logo for a new version of Torchwood. Since this would technically be a rebrand of sorts, I started with studying the previous logos. The first Torchwood logo was simply the letter T inside of a hexagon. The newer version of the institute’s logo, used in the show, is composed of hexagonal shapes arranged to make the letter T.

With this in mind, I decided to continue the tradition of using this particular shape. However, I wanted to see if I could come up with something different. My goal was to design something that was more of an evolution of the logo rather than a complete departure from tradition.

In my handy dandy sketchbook, I start looking at options for the hexagon and how to incorporate the letter T within it. If the initial logo for Torchwood was a single hexagon and the newer version was several arranged beside one another, how about I overlap hexagons? This created an interesting opportunity to create the letter T within the shape. I toyed with filling the letter as well as various sections but decided to make it an outline type logo. I wanted something that would be clean and recognizable. I pictured what would, in my opinion, look best on a clear office door. I didn’t think a big block T was necessary for me to get the point across.

In the final stage of the design process, I actually cut everything outside of the center. I tend to want to cut as much as possible when refining a concept. This decision also made the T on the inside more of the focal point. After arriving at the final logo, I applied a little color to it. The colors chosen took inspiration from the title sequences of the TV series.

Coming up with logos inspired by TV shows and other media is always fun. With each new project, I learn. Creative exploration is essential to keeping your mind sharp and curiosity satisfied.


Case Study: Freeland Electric Co.

In my humble opinion, Black Lightning is one of the best shows on television. It’s the newest addition to The CW Network’s family of superhero shows. It’s based on the DC Comics character Black Lightning and his family. From the music to the acting to the storylines, I have thoroughly enjoyed the program thus far. So, as is custom with me (see 100 Fictional Places and Doctor Who as examples), I wanted to design something inspired by the show and the fictional world it depicts. The result was this Freeland Electric Company logo.

Get it? (Electric…lightning…I’m clever)


Freeland is the fictional city that Black Lightning is set in. So I got into my sketchbook and started coming up with some options. The main idea I had was to somehow combine the letter F with a lightning bolt. The lightning bolt is often used as a symbol for electricity so the challenge was to represent it in a unique way within the letter.

I’m fond of using the grid and simple shapes to construct logos. I like the challenge of designing a logo that accomplishes its goal with as little as possible. When making logos that involve letters, I’m trying to discover what is the minimum required for the viewer to recognize the letter. Even within the relatively simple concept, there were some different options in how to present the combination.


The colors of the brand are taken straight from the Black Lightning promotional poster. Typically, when I design something inspired by a show or movie, I like to use the eyedropper tool to take the colors directly from the reference.


I love designing logos. So it’s fun to come up with these ideas and see where I can take them. It’s great to take opportunities to do work outside of in-house and client projects. Helps me practice my craft and express myself in new ways.

Why just tell people what I’m enjoying when I can show them through my work. I like sharing these types of pieces on my social media and tagging the franchises I’m paying homage to through the vectors I push in Adobe Illustrator.


How To Pull From Various Sources of Inspiration

There is a great value to inspiration. Inspiration makes you feel something. It influences you. It stimulates you to do something creative. It’s the spark that can ignite an ever burning flame. The need for inspiration is real. However, you need not limit your sources of inspiration. 

One of the sources can be and should be real life.

No matter your area of expertise, getting outside for inspiration provides you with a fresh view. As a graphic designer, of course I am inspired by the outstanding work I see from the designers I follow. I’m also inspired by the work I see out and about. I’m inspired by people, nature, scenery, etc. For example, let’s say you’re trying to design a brand identity for a city or town. You’ll want to look at other municipal branding projects to see what other cities have done. But the best way to get started is to take in the city itself. Take photos of the landmarks. Talk to the citizens. Walk around and get a feel for the city. The inspiration is around you. When trying to capture a specific locale, you need to experience it and know the nature of the scene. That will allow you create the symbols/icons you need.

Looking at other similar logos can be inspiring but just doing that is limiting. Taking in the real life outside live and through photos challenges you to interpret in an original way. Capture the originality of your own perspective. There are a lot of tigers, panthers, lions, etc. in the world of sports. The reason why there’s such a variety of designs is because each designer has captured a unique perspective of the animal through photo references. A tiger is a tiger, but what you pull from its features is what makes your design yours. If you’re only looking at others’ interpretations, you’re limiting the potential of your own creativity.

Every project you take on may not have a direct example you can look to as a guide. Play with the perspective and the visual representation of things that currently exist in the world. Get creative with how you use the elements you see. Expand your sources of inspiration as much as you possibly can. It will often surprise you where the spark will come from.

That spark could also come from outside of the market that you’re operating in. When I create branding for Kappa Kappa Psi & Tau Beta Sigma National Convention, I am pulling inspiration from other fraternities and sororities. However, I more so pull inspiration from the Super Bowl, Final Four, NHL, NBA, Oscars, Grammys, etc. Dreaming big means you’ll bring the most value to each and every project. I want my work to be able to stand in the same room as the work from much larger brands in much larger markets. I’m not limiting myself to work like mine. I’m inspired by great work across genres, styles, and markets.

To be the best version of yourself, you need to keep your mind and eye open.


How To Put Together A Website Project Plan

Over the past few years, I’ve put together website project plans for National Councils and committees that details our path to a successful website build and launch. I worked on the designs for the current Kappa Kappa Psi and Tau Beta Sigma national websites. Through those experiences, I have discovered a process that works well for me. Creating a plan and presenting that plan is important to do before starting any massive project. It is especially crucial when working with multiple people. The general 5 steps that I typically lay out are the following: setup/strategy, content gathering, design, testing/approval, and launch.


First and foremost, it is paramount that everyone involved know the purpose of the website and the target audience. None of the remaining steps can even begin until everyone is on the same page. Here is where the north star is established. The particulars will need to be discussed. What content will the user need to be able to access? What content is of highest priority? We need to create and agree on an initial sitemap. The sitemap establishes the hierarchy within a website. This helps in creating the menu and information structure. Speaking of structure, I usually suggest setting up a Content Management System (like WordPress, for example) at this stage.

Content Gathering

Once we are all on the same page, we can begin gathering content. You know what you want to display on the site. Now, it’s time to get all that information. Making content gathering its own stage allows you to do inventory and double check the accuracy of the information. It’s much easier to correct any mistakes here before getting lost in the fully designed website. Also, content doesn’t just refer to the information but also any visual assets that need to be gathered or created.


This is where we finally populate the site when all the content that has been collected. We’ve set the table. Now, it’s time to put the food on it. You’ll be designing the website with the sitemap in mind as the structure and populating it with the content collected. Obviously, outside of launch, this is my favorite stage. It is here where the aesthetics and functionality are put together to create something great.


After everything has been designed, it’s at this stage we test everything. We’ll need to click all the links, make sure everything works properly, and make sure nothing crucial is missing. At this point, we may show additional parties the website to see if it works as it should. At this stage, it’s often necessary to get fresh eyes on the site. You’ll want some people who haven’t been looking at this project for months to give it a look. It might be good to get a sample of your target audience to see if it works for the user you had in mind.


We have finally arrived! This starts the official countdown to releasing this thing into the wild for the world to see. For the Kappa Kappa Psi national website & the Tau Beta Sigma national website projects, this is where we transferred our work from development to the live server. Once we confirmed everything was working to our liking, we took off the countdown/dev splash pages and went live!

The best way to lay out this process is to work backwards from the desired launch date. Give each stage more than enough time to be completed. It’s always better to finish early than to be scrambling late. Laying the entire plan, with dates attached to each, is great for tracking progress and accountability. Plan, prepare, and present like a professional.


How To Create A Logo For Super Bowl 52 Like The Logos of Old

Last year, I talked about my dislike for the decision the NFL made to standardize the Super Bowl logo. I was a big fan of the personality shown in the old logos. So, I decided to start a design series in anticipation of the then-upcoming Super Bowl 50. I continued that with my Super Bowl 51 design. This year, after much struggle and many deleted concepts, I arrived at my version of the Super Bowl 52 logo.

Super Bowl 52 will be held at the U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. So, the very first thought I had was to try to incorporate the unique shape of the stadium architecture in the logo design. Deciding how to incorporate the shape proved more difficult than anticipated. I mistakenly tried to jump right into Adobe Illustrator and play. After failure and frustration were achieved in vector form, I took a step back and decided to go to pencil and paper. Sometimes you have to just stop and start over instead of trying to force a square peg into a round hole – especially, when you’ve created an obscene amount of layers with no solution in sight.

So much failure in vector form.

Once I recalibrated and created a new concept on paper, I felt a lot better about the possibilities. In 2018, I’ve pledged to do more pencil and paper work – not just for rough ideas, but drawing full concepts before opening Illustrator. With the Super Bowl 52 concept, I finished my idea and then analyzed it. I drew guides on the drawing, which helped me see how I would want to construct this on the computer. It is important to determine as much as possible before opening Illustrator. The drawing, with guides for construction, proportions, and angles, helped give me clarity before assembling the vectors.

The hardest part of designing these Super Bowl logos – actually, logos in general – is achieving something I feel like could even stand in the same room as those that have come before. I’m not comparing myself to other designers, positively or negatively. It’s about the work. It’s about creating something that has a worthwhile polish that will appreciated and accomplish the goal. I was constantly looking at the Super Bowl logos that have come before, while reviewing what I had done for 52. I arrived at something I felt comfortable enough showing to the public.


Creating A Logo To Recognize Outstanding Student Musicians

Few things excite me more in my position at Kappa Kappa Psi & Tau Beta Sigma National Headquarters than getting an e-mail asking me to design a new logo for a Fraternity or Sorority program or initiative. My love of designing logos is well documented at this point. So how do you think I responded to a request to re-design the Kappa Kappa Psi awards page with 10+ new logos?

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How To Create A Graphic Design Video Show With A Cool Name

In 2018, I embark on a new creative journey. Towards the end of 2017, I decided I wanted to produce more video content on a consistent basis. I began working on a new video series to premiere in 2018 called “Run The Layers”. Run The Layers is a show created because I thought it was a cool name and I love Adobe Illustrator (+ the entire Adobe Creative Cloud) and making logos. The purpose behind the show is to take the viewer on a journey on how designs are created. I want to break down all the layers, figurative and literal, within pieces of graphic design.

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