Washington Justice Lead Designer Katie Valdivia joined the D.C.-based organization in the back half of their inaugural season, leading a team of two designers and transforming their entire visual style for the last two stages of the season. We virtually sat down with Katie to discuss her design philosophies, what working for the Justice has been like, and where she sees the team’s overall design going into 2020 and beyond.
Jake Handy for The Game Haus: Hey Katie! Thanks for taking the time to do this. I’ve personally been a big fan of your output since joining the team and look forward to your work with the Justice in 2020.
Let’s get started with some background. How are you?
Katie Valdivia: Hey! I’m doing really well, albeit very busy. Lots of big things are underway for 2020 — the offseason is a really exciting time, behind the scenes!
TGH: If it’s been even half as wild for you as it has been for the players, I can imagine!
What got you started in design? Have you always been a designer?
KV: I started designing in middle and high school. I was in bands by then and promoting my own shows and tours. I designed show flyers/posters, record covers, t-shirts/merch and eventually websites. I realized I could offer those services to other bands/promoters while touring, which helped me pay my rent/bills back home while I was on the road. Years later, when I was starting out in esports, I was first a player and then an analyst, a writer and a streamer — still taking freelance design gigs for supplemental income. Not surprisingly, those worlds soon collided and I started designing for teams, tournaments and streamers and that’s how my side-hustle became my main-hustle.
TGH: With such a varied background, was there a particular company or person in your life that you would say formed the basis for your design worldview?
KV: I have a lot of influences from a lot of different corners of my life – from my South American roots and other parts of the world I’ve lived in to the underground punk and metal music scenes to working with modern advertising and design firms to film and fashion. A lot of my personal art portfolio could be clearly attributed to influence from names like Diane Arbus, Andy Warhol, Karl Lagerfield, Terri Gilliam.
As far as designers go: Peter Saville (legendary record/sleeve artist for bands like Joy Division, the Burberry redesign, the England football kit redesign), Jonathan Barnbrook (influential type designer and David Bowie’s go-to artist), George Lois (daring and iconic cover designs for Esquire magazine in the 60s and 70s and advertising for MTV and ESPN), Morag Myerscough (known for her bright and bold large-scale installations), and Saul Bass (possibly the most influential creatives of our time – certainly on me – responsible for infamous title sequences for Hitchcock and Scorcese as well as a prolific logo designer).
If you look through these designers’ bodies of work, I’d guess it’s kind of easy to see why I lean on strong typography, clever use of negative space and minimalist (but bold) color palettes looking back at this list.
TGH: You worked with the Toronto Defiant before being brought on with Washington. Was there a degree of difficulty in making sure your designs for these teams didn’t overlap or come across too similar?
KV: There’s really a LOT of differences between these two cities, which I’m learning more every day! I love the dark-world style we created for our Justice’s Stage 3 and 4 OWL coverage, but there were certainly some obstacles in working with similar palettes. I will say that I believe our style for 2020 will be far more in-line with the vibe of D.C. with next to no lines of comparison between the two cities.
… I believe our style for 2020 will be far more in-line with the vibe of D.C. …
TGH: What were your expectations of the Justice as a whole when you joined?
KV: I would be lying if I said that it wasn’t a little bit of a leap of faith when I joined Justice, but I can’t imagine myself having made another decision knowing then what I know now.
To better explain, when I left Defiant/Splyce, I found myself at a multi-pronged fork in the road – one option was to cash in my chips and look for a safe/stable position in a more traditional industry role, another was to potentially join a leading esports org that had been scouting me (where most core decisions had long been made), and another was to seek a real challenge. After a pretty in-depth interview process and several visits to D.C., I knew I had a variety of opportunities before me to really effect change and bring a variety of brands to the next level, not just the Justice.
To answer your question, I knew that this was going to be a big change for me with a lot of challenges/obstacles to overcome and that is precisely why I joined.
TGH: Did that expectation become a reality?
KV: Yes! I joined at a very intense time (both the Washington Kastles season and the full reimagining of the Citi Open tournament began) and experienced what one person here accurately described as “baptism by fire.” Being able to see it all come together at every level was honestly the affirmation I needed that this was the perfect choice for me though. I definitely got my challenge, as well as my reward!
TGH: Justice wasn’t the most popular team in earlier days and really through Stage 3. Did that ever get to you? If yes, what were some things internally that really kept you and the team going?
KV: It was a concern only in that it obviously was another obstacle to overcome, but after working in esports for 10 years I can confidently say that all popularity is fleeting. I think internally everyone knew that winning or losing was only part of it and we were all on the same page that we needed to humanize our players, hone in on our brand identity, and listen to our very vocal and loyal fans. I’d say we’ve already made some great strides in all of these areas, but we expect to be one of the more recognizable and lovable teams in 2020!
… we needed to humanize our players, hone in on our brand identity, and listen to our very vocal and loyal fans.
TGH: There was a noticeable shift in Washington’s design direction in early June, moving towards a darker, more muted black and red color palette. What was the motivation behind this shift?
KV: That lines up with when I came on in the second half of this season. We wanted to make an impact that was a large departure from the early season style to show that this is one way that we were diving in and willing to take some risks. We wanted to emphasize the blackout style we’d gone with for our alternate jersey style, as well as show a side of D.C. that isn’t just stars and stripes.
TGH: Competitive Overwatch in general has a very active design community in both OWL and the Tier 2 (and lower) scenes. Artists are always asking for recommendation and tips on software. From an OWL professional: what are some tools that you and the team use for design daily?
KV: Adobe Creative Suite – Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign. Our in-house designers have incredible setups and use MSI P65 Creator laptops and BenQ DesignVue monitors. While, not directly related to design – we plan, track and organize all design needs through a combination of Discord and Asana which are instrumental to keeping us focused!
TGH: What’s your personal favorite color scheme? Design paradigm?
KV: I lean on two very different palette directions as far as my personal aesthetic – stark black/white/greys and, on the other end of the spectrum, lots of bright, busy colors like cool-toned purples, pinks, blues. In both, I like to balance a high-intensity feeling of strong typography, hard shapes with clean negative space.
… I like to balance a high-intensity feeling of strong typography, hard shapes with clean negative space.
TGH: Do you find yourself designing for fun outside of work, or has it become very much a work-only activity?
KV: I do mini personal design tasks every day (or try to) to get myself in the right frame of mind and to test some new techniques, whether that’s a wallpaper or apparel design or just a photo-manipulation. When more time allows, I like to hone design-related skills like animation and video editing. More-so I try to work in photography and bullet journal design a little every weekend to satisfy my non-work creative needs.
TGH: If you could give Katie 10 years ago a design tip, what would that be?
KV: Most of my tips for myself back then would have been related to discipline and organization, the more boring side of design but maybe the most important to acknowledge. A well organized file or set of files will be more important than you realize both in terms of creating cohesive design packages and for time management. Other than that, I would teach myself to have a lighter hand with certain effects and some much smarter ways to create depth between elements in a design, ha!
TGH: Thank you so much for your time Katie! That’s all I’ve got; really appreciate you taking the time and diving so deep into these questions. I know myself and many others are so excited to see what you and your team bring to the table for 2020.
Any shout outs you’d like to make?
KV: I have to shout out my biggest and most vocal supporter, my mom, who taught me how to be good at video games and how to make lemonades out of lemons. I also want to make sure our other designers – Sydney Malham and Adam Britton – are also acknowledged for their great work and ability to keep me sane. And, last but not least, I have to give a strong nod towards our Justice fan family – most of all, our stellar support group, Vice & Virtue – for their dedication and passion. I know they hold us to the highest of standards and that gives us the motivation we need to meet and surpass their expectations for our region and our team.
Thanks for everything and for allowing me a space to talk about all the work I love doing!
Follow me on Twitter: @lowercasegig for questions or to tell me you love me.
Alternatively, I’m always willing to get in touch on Discord @ gig#9417.
Featured Image Courtesy of Patrick Pedroza for the Washington Justice
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