As you head out to the slopes this winter, let’s pause to celebrate the birth of snowboard design, which, alongside its kissing cousins graffiti and skateboard art, created a visual identity for a generation. Whether you like that visual identity or not, an appreciation for the origins of things never hurts. (Also, who knew the Design Archives had so much snowboarding graphic design?)
Graffiti and skateboards hit the scene running (usually from the police) in the ’70s.
With roots in surfing culture, surfboard artists such as Jim Phillips realized that skateboards afforded them a new canvas. This was soon followed by the advent of snowboarding, when Jake Burton founded Burton Boards in 1977, a time when boards were adorned only with a company logo. By the ’80s more sophisticated graphics began to appear, and by the ’90s the company hired the Burlington, Vermont-based firm Jager Di Paola Kemp Design (recently reimagined as The Karma Birdhouse) to create conceptually based, postmodern graphics, the first of which appears in the AIGA Design Archives in 1994. According to the archives, “This board graphic marks a pivotal point in the development of the snowboard industry, when sampling and the use of appropriated images became vital to conveying snowboarding’s irreverent challenge to traditional sports. The Ouija board game art signals the emergent conflict between riding’s good and evil cults, and graphically represents everything a ski can never be.”
That same year Los Angeles design firm Margo Chase premiered the Kemper Snowboards Griffin Logo (above) for the German manufacturer, based on a Teutonic gothic coat of arms and the mythic creature with dominion over earth and sky.
Snowboards returned to the Archives again the following year, this time with a playful series of “three directional concepts for a new line of graphite snowboards [for] a Japanese manufacturer known for their golf and tennis equipment. The designers named the brand ‘Gatta,’ Japanese slang for ‘Gotta,’ and created board graphics that would convey a California aura—edgy, but not too extreme—to a Japanese audience. Outrageously proportioned Western-style eating utensils, old-fashioned chrome appliances, and an L.A. disaster scenario complete with fire, smog, and earthquake put a whimsical yet slightly disturbing spin on American iconography. Of the three proposals, the client mass produced the silverware series to rave reviews and better-than-expected sales.”
And again in 1995, Seattle studio Modern Dog (their catchy tagline is “Tons of shit delivery daily”) created the sales catalog for K-2 Snowboards, featuring collage and hand lettering to “loosen things up, while hidden graphic surprises entice the reader to look again and again.”
In 2000 Jager Di Paola Kemp Design created an animated advertisement of an idealized moment in snowboarding for Burton (below), featuring the art by illustrator Geoff McFetridge. So as you venture out to the slopes, hills, and valleys seeking your own idealized moment, remember to not only look ahead but also to look down as you speed along.