I get it. When you are designing cards that have a small space available to display the content, it can be really tough to do every design the right way. There are always examples of awesome technology that can spruce things up, but fresh ideas are few and far between. One of the main reasons I abhor most of what Panini does is because of the way they design cards. To me, its not always about WHO is on the front of the card, but rather how that card looks as a primary driver of want. For many collectors, its the opposite, as design is always secondary to the player, patch, or autograph on the front of a card. Sometimes, its all of those things before design. Well, here are my pet peeves in a nutshell, which represent the easiest way to ruin a card design in my opinion.
Posed Player Photos / Non-action shots
Historically, Baseball cards were created with few examples of someone in action. Im sure it had to do with available photos, getting people out to the games to take pictures, and even more importantly, the cost of obtaining licensing to use existing ones. Posed photos, im sure, were much easier to deal with.
This situation led collectors to covet the posed photos for Baseball, because most of the time, it represented the cards of their youth. As a result, when football cards became a big part of the hobby, it was not a surprise that they were modeled after Baseball.
That being said, there is no bigger pet peeve of mine than a card company choosing photos of players who arent in the act of playing. Whether its on the sideline with their helmet off, or what I call the "Panini Special" which is a glamour shot of a rookie in some stupid pose, its all horrid.
Here are some horrible examples:
For Baseball, a player’s brand and likeness includes their face, so its less of an intrusive and vulnerable state for the card to depict them in that method. With football, the player’s brand is faceless, more represented by the uniform and heavy equipment they wear. Its rare that a player’s likeness includes the way they look off the field. Most of the time, as a result, the players dont know HOW to take pictures like this. They end up looking disinterested or just goofy. Every Panini set previewed so far, has some element of posed player photos. Barf.
Football is also a huge opportunity to utilize some of the most dynamic photography in sports. With the advent of digital SLR cameras, there is even more action available, and yet, some of the manufacturers STILL choose other ways to showcase a player. Its an immediate disqualifier to me, and I will not buy a football card that uses posed shots. I want combat. I want action. I want dynamic scenes that highlight why I watch. Not Johnny Manziel doing red carpet poses (yes that happened).
Vertical Cards With Swatches and Autographs
I think the greatest measure of a card designer is someone that can take a vertical card, add a swatch and an autograph and make it look good. It is so rare, that Im almost convinced its a cardboard unicorn. Many have tried, and the super majority of the cards are such abject failures, its not even worth continuing to go that direction.
These are just bad:
With a vertical orientation, you almost have take on a design that looks like each element is stacked neatly on top of each other. More importantly, because the bodies of the players are usually too big to add to the card with a swatch and an autograph, its almost required to cover up the subject of the card. They are usually relegated to being the size of a penny, or in a worst case scenario – absent from the front of the card all together. Im not kidding when I say that Panini has made cards without the player on the front.
To me, I collect cards for the players themselves. Without the player in a prominent position in the card layout, I dont see a reason I need to own it. Player photos should be the prime consideration on every card, and vertical cards of this type cant deliver on that promise without some sort of interesting configuration. I think its terrible that the swatches take more of a pronounced appearance than the players in a lot of these cases, and even more terrible that people think they look good.
Defined areas for autographs without consideration for the design of the card
There is one effect in card design that is under utilized in many card sets that I despise. I have called it the “ghost fade,” where the background elements of the card are faded out (but still visible) so that the player can sign the card. Some companies use this every chance they get, others like Panini, likely forgot the effect exists.
Instead of a ghost fade area for the autograph, they will obscure the flow and design of the card to have a defined area for autographs – both sticker and on card. These defined areas can be separated by lines, or in some of the worst examples, without warning. I have seen some cards where the player is literally sliced off at the knees or waist. Its hilarious!
The best of the best come from examples where the design will feature a giant box that is seemingly pasted over the card's layout that is meant to house the sticker. It is the worst way to showcase an autograph, as the box does nothing but disrupt the look in every way shape and form.
In some recent sets, Panini has used acetate scraps in place of sticker autographs, which only exacerbate this situation, as the card actually has to have a hole cut out. I dont know who thought this was a good idea? Its not.
Crazy Patterns on the Card Stock
This all stems from the late 1990s, where card companies were slave to the trends of the market. The foil patterned card stock was hugely popular on gaudy inserts, as it was a new way to make the boring old regular cardboard look more valuable. Kids love shiny shit, and the card companies wanted to take advantage.
Then as cards like the Superfractor grew in its reputation, it became more and more common for patterned card stock to be a way to build a parallel structure. There have been some crazy attempts to replicate the success of the Superfractor, and all of them seem to be centered around branding a card around the distracting pattern of the stock.
To me, it just takes away from everything. At least with the ones Topps makes, players and certain design elements are opaque. It prevents the design from showing through over their images. In other circumstances for Panini and the others, players are semi transparent. This leads to the pattern showing through over their faces and images. Its a great way to give someone a headache.
There are times where I see someone looking at a clearly ugly card and getting excited over the way it looks. I wish I had the eyes that let me experience a card that way, regardless of the way it looks. I cannot understand how or why some design decisions are made the way they are, and as Panini takes on more and more of the exclusives within the industry, there may no longer be choices that allow us to avoid the designs we hate. Variety breeds competition, and exclusive licenses do not help that. We should all hope that something changes soon, or the choices may be gone forever.