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What’s it like to be a graphic designer for a Premier League club?

We sat down to chat with Luke Flacks, designer at Everton, to hear what it’s like to be a creative at a Premier League football club.

lukeflackscoverThe beautiful game and design are two parallel interests of mine, which rarely cross paths. As a graphic designer and lifelong Everton fan, getting an email back from Luke Flacks about an interview for TMG was as exciting to me as a player getting in touch. I’d always been intrigued as to what it’d be like to apply a love of design to a passion for football, but for Mr. Flacks it was his specialist trade he’d been plying across the North for years.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, as Luke was originally difficult to track. His online presence is faced by a digital avatar depicting himself and access is often limited to personal acquaintances. Upon meeting in a small local café in his hometown of Huddersfield, I was comforted to chat to a friendly and humble Yorkshireman proud of his job but well aware of its stature. Luke started working at Everton 2 years ago after previous design jobs at his boyhood club Huddersfield Town FC and a more commercial graphic agency in the area. After this agency he’d worked at since graduating went bust, Luke got a call from HTAFC and went for a meeting directly with chief executive and the chairman. “The rest is history” as he puts it.

“I kind of fell into football, really. I’d always loved the game but didn’t intend to work in it. I had the traditional hierarchy at the agency before hand with a creative director and managing director above me, but that goes out the window in football. It’s totally different.”

He was recruited to Huddersfield at the tender age of 21, after the club had just been taken over by chairman Dean Hoyle. This shifted the paradigms at the club, and they started to build this in-house team rather than outsourcing which sparked the beginning of a newly successful era. Flacks is quick to highlight the significance of this part of his career, stating it will always be the making of him.

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Joining Everton was a natural progression for Luke. It was bigger in all aspects of the job with more fans, more responsibility, more work and more resources. It was just one of many occasions we paused to laugh at the similarities and parallels drawn with being a football player. Others included the decision to leave his family and hometown to move across the Pennines (originally to his Huddersfield supporting dads distress), the considered approach to his online presence and his move from Championship to Premier League.
A question I’d been keen to ask was whether being a lifelong fan of the club was a pro or con of a job, given he’d had experience on both sides. After a bit of thought, he decided that not having the emotional attachment he had at Huddersfield allowed for a more professional and streamlined approach. However, there are many Evertonians in the office around him, which gives a healthy balance to the atmosphere and keeps heads clear when bringing campaigns and projects to the drawing board. 

“We like to sit down a lot to give each other advice. It’s good to have a mixed balance. Myself and the other designers at Everton, Lee, Ian and Mark, all have very different expertise and interests, so we’re constantly learning and helping each other improve as creatives on a daily basis. I think it’s important to be around that sort of atmosphere, wanting to improve and better yourself, as design skills and styles are constantly evolving.

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It was interesting to hear he had prior experience in a regular studio and I wondered how this would contrast with football as a workplace. The workplace itself is very different too he tells me. Rather than being surrounded by design 24/7, he might walk past an academy coach in the office or an Everton In The Community member. Compared to Huddersfield it is “worlds apart in terms of size” but the system has more similarities than differences. At Huddersfield he could send an email directly to the chairman, but at Everton there are many more people in between with different responsibilities. Luke’s daily workspace is actually a tower in Everton One; the main shop opposite Goodison Park styled to look like the centrepiece of their crest. This was surprisingly close to the action, with a view onto the legendary Dixie Dean statue and a couple of miles outside the city centre. I was surprised how close together it’s all kept, but it makes sense in terms of the close-knit family aura a team like Everton and it’s media output give off.

“I look onto the Dixie Dean statue and it’s amazing to see how many people each day go and get a picture with him or lay flowers and scarves down. It really is like a religion to some people. There aren’t many graphic design jobs where your audience are so passionate and attentive around the clock.” 

A similarity to peer design jobs Luke highlights, is that a lot of his work doesn’t get seen. There is a lot of corporate work to do at football clubs; keeping well presented to partners and sponsors. Fortunately for some, not all the talking can be done on the pitch. At this point, Luke announced he’d brought something along to show me that couldn’t be sent digitally for non-disclosure purposes. He went to his bag and brought out an enormous and beautiful collection of books, set in a thick grey card sleeve with a royal blue foil embossed Everton crest on the front. My eye’s lit up, as he let me flick through the deluxe bits of print including a respectful tribute book to the recently deceased toffee’s club legend Howard Kendall. It was incredibly exciting to see such well crafted and expensively produced bits of graphic design for a football club, but contextually it was the annual report only for the eyes of a few wealthy businessmen and women. It was great to see, and simultaneously reminded me that it is a normal graphic design job.

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“Realistically, working in football is like any other industry. You have your good days and you have your bad days. But you have to remember, with a team like Everton, there are thousands of other people out there who would love your job. You’ve always got to be respectful of that, and at the end of the day you will only ever work at a football club for a tiny period of it’s history. There’s a fine balance where you don’t want to take something the fans love and make it rubbish, but also as a designer anywhere you want to make your own mark.”

In contrast, the work Luke produces that we see is on billboards, Twitter and Facebook. A selected portfolio within this feature shows graphics almost exclusively in blue, celebrating players, managers and fans in an attempt to rouse the audiences’ emotions and connections with an age-old football club. Considering the constraints in terms of what can be produced, Luke and his Everton counterparts are innovative and fresh with their approach creating interesting visuals that more than catch the eye in their field. This has been commended with host of awards and nominations of late. In this sense, you can identify the challenge of the job and the satisfaction that must come with another successful campaign and sold out games.

The excited Everton fan in me saw Luke’s job on a pedestal. I was very curious to know if he was essentially an “In The Know” as an employee of the club.

“I suppose so, to an extent. At a club as big as Everton, information has to be passed through so many levels so it’s not immediate, but with things like signings we have to be prepared and that includes me producing graphics. When Ronald Koeman came in I had to do a lot of work on that so I knew beforehand. We had been told talks were ongoing, and with something as big a deal as that which marks a new era in the history of the club you have to be prepared and represent it properly.” 

1-rk-twitterannouncementimageI wondered how much work was then rendered useless when the dramatics of football unfold and a signing doesn’t pull through. It put a smile on my face to learn that Luke works on site at Everton’s training ground Finch Farm for Transfer Deadline Day, sat with a photographer and a flask of coffee awaiting news on arrivals. There were elements that were hesitant to be discussed from both his Huddersfield and Everton days, but it was insightful nonetheless to consider how a players change of heart or wife’s preference can squander days of work, then to be shredded or deleted and never spoken about again.

That legal hand was another stress added to the football industry that was ever prominent in our discussion. He of course could not tell a journalist like myself some things, and his hesitance proved one more addition to the worries and woes of a Premier League graphic designer. Most designer’s will have signed an NDA or been under embargo on an exciting project before, but with Luke and his colleagues’ role there are hundreds of internet moles out there scouring for whatever information they can (myself included!). Those fans might also not necessarily be a fan of the work, and with internet anonymity it seems almost anything goes in football. A graphic designer may not have the same steely exterior as a player and so it’s easier to avoid the flacking altogether, with Luke identifying that “if you’re afraid of criticism, it’s not the right industry for you to be in”.

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It was a shame to hear that the programmes and club magazine were still outsourced, but in a sense the focus is still greatly on content rather than a fan curtailed editorial approach. Perhaps as clubs become more aware of their graphic presence and design teams grow, these sorts of things can be brought in house too. Luke was insightful and interested in the subject of football design as whole, citing its many failures of the past and progressions of late.

“Design has passed football by. It’s been very naive over the years and not realised the essential need for marketing and how it can commercially build a club. It’s only now the top teams have started to be so efficient with everything that it’s all started to catch up.”

“Football in general should start being braver with these things, and I think over the years we’ll see that. By being a bit more creative and lenient, it’s not just about keeping the fans happy but also getting in the right sponsors and partners to get in more money and be able to buy more players. It all links in.”

A huge thanks to Luke for chatting to us and we look forward to seeing much more from him and Everton in the future. Best of luck this season from all at The Modern Game.

www.evertonfc.com

twitter.com/Luke_Flacks

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