The Anatomy of a Card Design: Appreciating 2014 Elite Football’s Elite Series Insert

July 23, 2014

Panini America 2014 Elite Football Elite Series Main

There are no autographs in 2014 Donruss Elite Football’s Elite Series insert. No patchtastic pieces of memorabilia, either. In fact, you won’t find much in the way of super-premium add-ons in Elite Series. What you will find — overwhelmingly so — is . . . an impeccable design . . . captivating photography . . . and a reverent use of foil; throwback nuances one and all that help Elite Series shine as a stunning 20-card showcase valuing aesthetics and composition above all else.

The result is an attention-commanding attraction in 2014 Elite Football that demands a closer look. Elite Series is artfully served by the extra real estate provided on a full 2 /12 by 3 1/2-inch canvas uncluttered by autographs, memorabilia or both. That’s a point not lost on Panini America Art Director Bradley Kollath, the man tasked with designing the Elite Series insert.

“Having a completely open canvas is a great change of pace for designers,” Kollath notes. “With the current trend in the hobby focusing more on autographs and memorabilia, we are limited with the amount of space we have to carry out a concept. A prime piece of jersey or beautiful autograph is the focal point of those cards and the design elements are merely an accent to their inherent value. However, when we are asked to add value to a product with a concept and a blank canvas, we can explore ways to heroically represent the great figures in professional sports.

“These are the types of cards that we can all remember collecting as children and will allow us to pass this hobby on to our children in the same way. In my opinion, cards without memorabilia or autographs are just as important to sustaining the sports card collecting industry as any other cards we produce.”

Kollath, now in his fourth year with Panini America, is as passionate about how a card looks as the collectors those very looks are designed to impress. Intrigued by the arresting aesthetics of Elite Series, we set out to delve a little deeper into the seldom-covered card-design process. We think you’ll find the following interview with Kollath to be every bit as revealing as we did.


The Knight’s Lance: How long have you been designing?
Bradley Kollath: “I have been a professional designer for four years, but my passion for sports integrated with design goes all the way back to my childhood. I had a sports-themed room with all kinds of sports logos plastered throughout the space. I used to spend time in there with a sketchpad trying my best to re-create some of my favorite marks from the sports world. At that time I couldn’t fathom being able to turn that into a career choice. Working at Panini America has allowed me to retain some of those childhood dreams.”

TKL: Can you briefly detail how our creative process works? 
BK: “We have a process that allows for open communication and innovation within the department. The whole team meets as a group to discuss a general look and feel we want to attain to lay the groundwork for a set. Using inspiration from various entities, we start to hone our ideas into a cohesive set that fits a particular price point and consumer. It is a unique challenge as a designer to visually represent goods that sell from one side of the spectrum to the other. Designing our lower-cost products (like Score) compared to our high-end products (like Flawless) allows a breadth of experience that is unparalleled in the industry. Some products have a strong heritage for specific designs, photos or inserts — like Contenders Rookie Tickets — and those factor into the discussion as well.”

TKL: For a product like Elite, are you assigned the entire set or just certain parts of it?
BK: “Our execution of sets is fluid depending on the amount of projects we have going concurrently. I was the Art Director on Elite Football and I had three other designers working on various inserts. We decided as a team that it was crucial to add full-border foil to the non-autograph and non-memorabilia cards in the program to create more intrigue visually. That is why the collector will notice full foil coverage on inserts like Legends of the Fall, Face 2 Face and Elite Series. I worked on the designs that integrated full foil while the rest of the team worked on creating great visual solutions around the cards with jerseys or autographs.”

TKL: For the Elite Series insert, what did you use as inspiration? What was the idea behind your final design?
“When we were discussing Elite Series with our Product Development team, it was quite evident that the heritage of the insert carries well beyond my time at the company. I thought it was important to maintain some of the elements from the designs that had previously been created as a visual homage to those cards. I executed that by bringing in full-bleed photography like years past. I also wanted to include a cropped headshot to catch individual expressions of the game that made some of the old Donruss designs popular. Looking at movie posters and other designs that included great photography and minimal type allowed me to bring the two photos together and make a new solution that continues to pay tribute to a great insert.”

TKL: Who are some of your favorite sports teams and players?
BK: “Growing up in Nebraska, there’s only one sport: Football. I have been a diehard Nebraska Cornhuskers fan for as long as I can remember. Some of my favorite players growing up were Ahman Green and Tommy Frazier. My dad is from the Green Bay area so I am also a huge Packers fan. The 1996 Super Bowl run with Brett Favre and Reggie White, along with the latest title in 2010, are some of my favorite sports memories. It has been a blast to be part of rabid fan bases in both the college and pro realms.”

Now that you’ve heard from the designer, it’s time to appreciate his designs. To that end, we’re taking you card by card through the Gold version of Elite Series.