June 6, 2009

Design Neither Tasteless Nor For Turkeys

An interview with graphic and golf accessory designer Scott ‘Woody’ Woodworth

Part 1 of 2 (link to Part 2)

click on any picture to enlarge it to original size

There are – as the story goes – as many definitions of what design is intended to be as there are different types of designers out there, or objects to which designs are applied, or designs of things we intend to create. If one searches on the web for the answer to the question ‘What is the purpose of design’, there are just as many different answers as above, including the seemingly popular view that ‘the purpose of design is to improve life’. Well, yes, but define ‘improve’ please, especially the part about who’s life it does indeed improve and in what way. Even turning to the fount of modern knowledge for the common man, Wikipedia states that ‘To study the purpose of designs, beyond individual goals (e.g. marketing, technology, education, entertainment, hobbies), is to question ... controversial politics, morals, ethics and needs... (Furthermore) these philosophies for the "purpose of" designs are in contrast to philosophies for guiding design or methodology.’

Well, okay. But let’s turn our thoughts instead to the lighter side of design and accept as
Ross Bleckner recently said that ‘something could be just beautiful and decorative ... and that’s fine!’ Couldn’t we also modify this slightly to read ‘something could just be fun ... and that’s fine, too’? Well, without sounding overly philosophical ourselves (read: pompous), that is indeed what Scott ‘Woody’ Woodworth has set out to do with his growing business endeavour, ‘Loudmouth Golf’. In terms of Woody’s designs and offers to the world of the ‘fashionista’, this wacky team of fun loving folks make it very clear that ‘Loudmouth puts the fun back into golf!’ And why is that? Well, again in their own words, because ‘men’s golf pants have turned to mud. Where did all the fun fashions go? We’re bringing them back single-handedly. Pants that go from the fairway to the party.’

So sure, when you see this blog, you may think ‘oh my stars and garters, that is NOT design’ ... but I’m guessing that many others are thinking ‘that would look totally cool as a font, texture or graphic back-up for this piece I’ve been working on.’ Or even: ‘that is so retro, it reminds me of all those wild styles from the Austin Powers movies’ (an inspiration of Woody’s, in fact). Or perhaps – dare we say it – you’re thinking, ‘how can I get a pair of these and how many places can I think of to wear them?’ Ziggy Nixon is therefore pleased to present our conversation with Woody as we trace his journey from type setter and graphic designer to what can only be called trend setter and designer of some pretty wild, graphical things indeed:

Woody, despite all the ‘hullabaloo’ about the pants, you are in fact a professional designer, correct?

Yes... well, now I am. I mean, I just started doing it for myself and it just turned into this venture into golf pants. But no, I am not a trained textile fabrics designer, if that’s what you mean. I’m actually a graphics designer by trade. To be specific, I am a typographer, which I’ve been doing for about 25 years, maybe even longer than that now.

What led you to design?
I guess it was just the fact that I was always doodling in class all through Junior and Senior High School that really led me to it. Also, my dad had this really cool handwriting and drawing style. He was a sort of architect and I just always thought that his printing and drafting style was pretty cool. Plus, I was interested in advertising. I read
Confessions of an Advertising Man, by David Ogilvy, when I was younger, which was a big deal in the 60’s and 70’s. And I thought that was cool, too.

You apparently had a rather unique aspect in terms of your major, dealing with a word we perhaps have to define for everyone (heck, I had to look it up, too!)?
Yes, you mean
semiotics. Gosh, where did you get all that stuff? Do you know where I live, too? (ZN: yes, and I would just like to point out that the right rear tail-light on your wife’s car needs to be replaced)
Semiotics besides it’s official definition is really the study of all communications beyond just the written and spoken word. If you break down the word in Latin, it comes from semi- which means half, and -otics, which is ear. So it involves any communications that can be carried out or interpreted with any of our senses.

My education was pretty interesting. It involved movie classes, and even quantitative satellite communication, you know, studying how airwaves go through the air. It involved a lot of English and linguistics, too. It all just seemed like a lot more fun than just reading and writing to me. Plus, with what I originally signed up for, I realized that once we started going beyond a certain level in math, you know, beyond differential equations and into heavy calculus and integrals, well, I couldn’t do it any more. I had to pick something different than that, and as such I went with a degree that was heavily weighted in English instead!

What did studying this ‘study of signs and symbols’ ultimately teach you about life, the universe, and everything?
Nothing. Other than it was easier to take another major so that I could drink more beer and have more fun with my friends! But I do appreciate proper use of English when I see it. (ZN: uh-oh)

What has been your career path leading you here? Are you still involved outside of the Loudmouth venture in the world of design?
Well, initially, when I got out to California, I went to work for a newspaper selling advertising space. Since it was a small operation, it was literally ‘all hands on deck’ when it was time to actually physically put the newspaper together. Everyone had to help with all aspects of the production. So I learned and grew experienced in how to run old typographic equipment – realizing that back then the machines were about as big as a Volkswagen Beetle. You couldn’t just sit there and look on a screen what you were doing like you can now. It was a lot more difficult and totally different than just typing in text and measuring what the pica-width of a column has to be.

But I had way more fun any way piecing something together with my hands. And I enjoyed using my eyes and lining things up a lot more than selling something. I mean, especially selling ad space, it’s like you’re really just... well, I don’t even think of it as selling, I guess, because you’re just selling air, like they say in the movie ‘City Slickers.’ Okay, yes you’re selling air when it’s for radio – but in newspapers it’s just as bad, because it’s like you’re selling blank pieces of paper. Ultimately, I had no desire to be a salesperson at all! I needed to make something.

In fact, I started using the newspaper’s equipment after hours, you know, doing some free-lance graphic design, which was a lot of fun. I still did sales for the newspaper, sure; but even if I sold or didn’t sell something to a store, I’d still ask them if they needed anything else, like a brochure, or a coupon, or something like business cards or whatever. Then I would do some designing for menus or flyers for, I don’t know, Chinese restaurants or whatever. And I had way more fun doing that than anything else.

Are you still involved with graphic design, for example, with the
Ann Hill group, where you’re still listed as a member of their team? If so, how does this fit into your golf pants venture?
No, I’m not a part of that group any more. It’s funny that you ask, because the tipping point came just this last month basically (May, 2009). It was tough because they were so good to me for so many years. But I had to tell them that Loudmouth is now my full-time job because of the simple fact that I’m spending 10 to 12 hours a day at it, just trying to keep up with everything that has to be done and needs to be caught up with in terms of running a successful business.

Ann Hill was actually one of my biggest graphic design customers, in fact, the biggest. In terms of my service for Ann Hill: besides doing PR for companies she also asks them if they need brochures, or press packages, or advertising. This would often go hand-in-hand her promotions and so I did all the graphic design that spun off from her PR connections. Ironically, I actually hired them to do the PR for Loudmouth Golf, which was funny, because it was really Catch-22 there for a while: the better Loudmouth did, the worse of a graphic service provider I was for them. But now that’s finished.

To be honest, I like to think that they’ll have trouble replacing me, because I was a very good graphic designer. Don’t get me wrong: I wasn’t super, super creative but on the other hand, I wasn’t super, super egotistical either. I just did your standard ‘meat and potatoes’ variety design, you know, ‘nice’ work which was finished on time and for a good price. And in terms of my own work, I really only had 5 or 6 good-sized customers over a span of about 20 years. In all that time, I had never had to do any ‘cold calling’ and I just kept my businesses going very well. But even though I was still working as a free-lance graphic designer I was somehow able to put a roof over my family’s heads and raise my kids, which I think is not that easy to do in this field.

Looking more now at the pants or other accessories themselves: how did you ever conceive of such a notion?
I didn't! If you go back and look at any golfing photographs from
Golf Digest or Sports Illustrated between the years 1968 and say 1974, you see the pants were already being worn by those guys! And I mean, that’s when golf was really fun! And the proverbial horrible plaid pants that everyone’s Uncle used to wear when he used to play golf in the early ‘70’s, well, everyone knows about that! That’s the joke!

I mean at that time, it wasn’t just the golf pants, it was also sometimes the design of carpet or wallpaper or even furniture; it was just the mod, psychedelic look of the time! You know those patch-work and other wild patterns. I mean, the great
Johnny Miller wore striped pants all the time with turquoise colored belts, and that was the thing. Okay, it may not have lasted very long, but everyone remembers it. I mean even now whenever you see a cartoon in the New Yorker magazine or wherever that involves someone holding a golf club, just to make sure they create the right persona for the golfer, the cartoonist puts striped or plaid pants on them.

Where I’m going with all this is that later there came a time for me, you know, when I was finally earning enough money where I could afford to take an afternoon off here and there mid-week to go play golf with my buddies. And, well, I wanted to celebrate that. But just wearing khakis wasn’t, I don’t know, traditional or proverbial enough. I wanted to bring that iconic style back!

So I decided to make one pair of pants for myself. I went to the local fabric store – just picture it: there I was alone with about a six tiny, elderly ladies with their blue-hair and we were all perusing fabric aisles on a Tuesday morning. I found a powder blue fabric with pictures of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck and their Looney Tune cohorts all swinging at golf balls and riding a golf cart. I took this pattern and brought it to a local lady to sew up into pants. And then I went golfing.

It was amazing really, the reaction I got. I mean, people were coming up to me all day long. A lot were laughing at me and asking, ‘oh what did you do, did you lose a bet?’ Others were saying ‘oh those are great, where did you get those, they’re awesome!’ But it created so much attention – negative as well as positive, which was fine with me. I mean, I thought the more I could annoy someone with those pants, the better! So it was good on both sides! And as fate would have it, a lot of the guys came up to me and said they had to get a pair for themselves! And as such, I’d make these wild pants for them. Well, not me personally: I’d just pick out the fabric and send them off to a local seamstress to be made, then I’d mail the finished pants to the customers.

Was it difficult to find the ‘right’ patterns?
Yes, at first. What I’d do is I’d go into these fabric stores and I’d look at the folds. And I had a little note pad and I’d write down the company who made those fabrics. Then instead of paying retail, what I’d do is go call up the companies that had made the fabric and have them send a sales person to my house.

The fabric suppliers would send the same guy that serviced these fabric stores, which were basically selling to hobby quilt makers. And these guys would always show up with 3 suitcases full of patterns and give me their usual sales spiel. I’d maybe thumb through about 400 swatches of fabrics with different patterns and come up with 1 or 2 that looked sort of fun and that I thought could be worn on a golf course. And then, I’d buy a hundred yards and bring the fabric to Sacramento to be made into about 50 pairs of pants. When they were done, I’d put them up on my web-site and they’d sell in about a month. And then I’d have to go buy more fabric and make new pants because the sales were quite successful.

But a big problem was always that I’d go back to the companies and they’d say ‘sorry, we’re out of stock.’ You know, these big fabric companies change their styles quite often, especially if there’s not a lot of demand. That was really frustrating.
continued in Part 2


All pictures and images used by written permission of Scott Woodworth and are the sole property of Loudmouth Golf or the professional persons illustrated. No further usage is allowed without written consent of Loudmouth Golf ... or you'll wind up sleeping with da turkeys, gobble gobble! (Keep reading to see just how real of a threat that is!)

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