Graphic Design in the Zone: Peak Performance in Picturing Sport

Jen Roos
Assistant Professor of Graphic Design
Computer Arts + Design
Mercy College
Founder and Principal
8 Point Studio

While much has been written about the significance of sport and graphic design in culture, there exists a gap in research examining their intersection. The cultural impact of sport and graphic design has increased and so has the importance of this growing body of design. The history of graphic design for sport reveals important cultural attitudes toward human movement, and contemporary design in this category depicts our shifting attitudes in the face of significant societal change. Contemporary designs for sport display an increasingly sophisticated and groundbreaking visual language for the poetics of movement through space. This modern translation of the experience of “flow”, or “being in the zone”, provides a heightened and visceral sense of great feats of modern physical prowess — albeit at a remove. Our current outsourcing of movement to visual and virtual realms and idolization of the promise of technology threaten to imperil our actual experience of physical movement and health on a global scale.

Individuals experience the seduction of motion more than ever by virtue of the rapidly evolving digital world and expanding global presence of sport. At the same time, health research indicates that we as a society are becoming dangerously sedentary. Given that we are increasingly detached from physical movement and real-life athletic experiences, we naturally seek visuals that represent the glories of the pinnacle of motion. We now need to ask if design and sport can work together to encourage — not just lionize — movement. Global entities such as Nike have begun to experiment with ways graphic design might inspire physical movement, an important mission that could have larger, positive implications for the role that graphic design can play in improving our future health across the world.