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Why design in IndyCar is lacking
Why design in IndyCar is lacking

It’s race day. The stands are packed, the infield is filled, and once again Indianapolis is about to put on the greatest single sporting event in the world. Everyone’s eyes are on our city. Then the drivers come out in Gasoline Alley wearing boring firesuits, unappealing helmets, and get into cars that look lackluster at best.

IndyCar is in a place right now where everything they do is good—but not good enough. You can see it in the fans, the decision makers, and you can even see it in the designers of the sport.

Not understanding the sponsor’s brand
Rik Tommasone, designer and brand manager for Scott Dixon, believes some designers are not taking the time to explore elements of the team’s main sponsors.

“You have to find a way to take whatever brand you’re doing and make it functional. You have to be able to pull some racing out of the brand and the color palette. What can you pull that’s fun to watch?”

“The best thing to do is try and find a way to understand the brand. You have to base it off of how the brand acts. Do they take risks? Are they friendly? You have to feel out the client. You’ve got to make it interesting. You can’t just slap the logo on and a paint color and say you’re done.”

Not thinking things through
It’s not always about what you can see, but what you can’t see. When people don’t take the time to understand what can’t be seen on race day, their designs quickly fall flat.

The car is going to look a lot different when it’s going 200 miles per hour than when it’s stopped. And when the car is stopped, you have to think about another set of obstacles. What can’t be seen because of the angles of the car?

Too many times, designers miss an opportunity to showcase their skills and make something that’s memorable by relying on loud colors. Some think that if the car is bright enough, then it is good enough. Well, the 80s were bright. But that doesn’t mean they were good for everyone. A good example of using color in the right way is the car of Townsend Bell.

Not taking control
Helmet design is a great example of designers doing what they’re told and not taking creative liberty to take a concept and make it look better. Drivers look at their helmets as a representation of themselves. They tend to incorporate their native country’s flag or the colors of other inspirational drivers.

The problem isn’t what the driver wants on their helmet—it’s how those things are incorporated in the designed for the helmet.

“A lot of them are awful. Will Power’s helmet, Charlie Kimball’s, these just could have been so much better. And a lot of the time it’s not the designers that mess things up. It’s the painters that think they know what looks good and deviate from the design.”

Designers need to be more in control of their craft. Listen to what the driver or sponsor wants and take it that extra step further to make it eye-catching and attention grabbing.

“When dealing with a sponsor that is very strict about they want, I will always mock that up as an option. And then I’ll give them a second option based on what I think would be best, visually. And nine times out of ten they will go with the second option.”

Racing is a sport that is heavily influenced by sponsors. But that’s not an excuse to have boring design, rather an opportunity to challenge yourself and make the sponsors interesting. Designers need to put more effort into what they are producing and have more pride in what they can do. Stop making designs that are just okay, and make something that will be memorable for all the right reasons. And who knows, perhaps the rest of the IndyCar industry will follow.