Surmounting the ‘Caps: M.Willis Does LA vs Vancouver

The latest match poster – for tonight’s big bout against the Vancouver Whitecaps – is out, and it was designed by none other than Mark Willis.

If that name sounds familiar, it should: he’s the talented designer who we rang up to critique UNDEFEATED’s take on the LA Galaxy’s brand, and to pick apart the Galaxy’s 2014 kit. And that’s not to mention the multitude of fantastic soccer projects he’s written up on his own site. Seriously, check him out.

I’ll take any excuse to interview a thinker like Mark — so when the poster dropped I couldn’t resist reaching out. Below are Mark’s thoughts on his process, LA’s chances against Vancouver, and just what it takes to capture, visually, the 2014 LA Galaxy.


You have a great write-up of the poster’s design elements over at your blog — but could you walk us through them, briefly?

Sure thing. I started with a simple visual of a white-capped mountain being “conquered” by an LA Galaxy-themed pennant flag. Since Whitecaps are mountains, and mountains can be surmounted, it seemed like a good way to visually communicate the Galaxy’s superiority. The quasar-shaped, Galaxy style stars in the sky back that up.

Then, there’s a second way to see the shapes — as the corner of a soccer field.  The angle of the mountain shape makes up the corner itself, and the flag becomes the corner flag.  The stars become flashbulbs in the crowd.

Finally, the flag displays a “10” — a reference to Landon Donovan, the man of the moment.  He takes Galaxy corners and he’s rightly being celebrated right now.  One final easter egg: there are 107 stars (or flashbulb flashes) surrounding the flag — one for every goal Landon has scored for the Galaxy.

I’m curious about the timeline here. How long does a project like this take? Donovan’s obviously a central part of this design — but did you even know about his retirement when this started?

This came together quite quickly. The Galaxy reached out to me after some back-and-forth on Twitter, and I had about a week to come up with the concept and deliver the final piece.  So I did know about Landon’s retirement, but I didn’t know exactly how I wanted to honor him when I started thinking about the piece.  The Galaxy design and marketing folks were great — they asked me come up with the concept and run with it.

The design is obviously catered to an LA fan — planting a flag atop Vancouver’s white cap, and all. I’m curious: what would a poster from the opposite perspective look like? Just, y’know, spitballing.

I’d love to design one from Vancouver’s perspective.  There’s a lot to work with there – the intimidating mountains and the somewhat exotic reputation Vancouver has could be mined for great ideas. If the Caps want to explore it, I’d be happy to!

Personally the Whitecaps’ brand has always struck me as a particularly strong one. LA’s isn’t half-bad, either. I’m sure these were two fun brands to mash-up — but if you had to pick any other two teams in the league to portray, who would they be?

I enjoy working with natural symbols – sky, mountains, stars – so this particular matchup was great.  I’d love to work with some of the new and up-and-coming identities – NYCFC, Atlanta, etc. – who are just establishing their style. I really like the idea of creating something beautiful and urgent that makes a strong first impression on new fans.

Of course, another fun challenge would be to take an existing brand that’s aged a bit, like the Revolution, and create something cool around it.

Given Donovan’s impending retirement, it really feels like LA will be searching for a new identity on the field. Is this the right time to do the same with their crest? Or should a strong brand be what carries a team through the upcoming soul-searching process?

The Galaxy are in good shape, brand-wise.  The crest, the colors, and the style are all confidently established now. Even the name – officially LA Galaxy, not Los Angeles Galaxy – walks the perfect line between American style nicknames and traditional soccer clubs.  They’re positioned to be an American institution as soccer grows.  On the field, I think a few more marquee signings will keep their current identity – a galaxy of stars, if you will – going strong.

Last question, and I promise not to hold it against you: LA vs. Vancouver. Who you got, and what’s the scoreline?

Galaxy 3-1. Donovan scores one and delivers a perfect corner to Omar for another.