Guest Q&A: The Shirt Project

[Today brings you the second guest Q&A, conducted by Ada Puiu, a senior at the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto. Her first Q&A is here. More about guest Q&As here.]



Louise Ma and Richard Watts were both design/printmaking students at the Cooper Union School of Art in New York when the idea for The Shirt Project came to them, somewhere in the East Village in the spring of 2007. That idea was to “diagram the news, on shirts.” They were awarded the Rhoda Lubalin Fellowship later that year (an annual design grant from Cooper Union), and set out to produce 10 breaking-news shirts. For a $75 subscription (or, alternately, paying $15 per shirt), The Shirt Project provides 5 diagrammatic tees detailing a story that’s making news – for example, one charts the correlation between the declining US dollar and sunspot activity, while another points to just how little of the sun’s energy we’re actually utilizing.

Aside from clever graphic design, their aim is to reach those who may not always read the headline news. I find it really cool that you can raise awareness about Myanmar just by rocking a regular ol’ Jersey T. With 24-hour news channels, e-mail updates available from all major newspapers, and shows like The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, all constantly increasing the flow of information and awareness, wearing a news item on a shirt in place of a brand seems like a logical step. I contacted Louise and Richard, curious about their inspiration and goals for the future with The Shirt Project. Below is our brief Q&A. – Ada Puiu

Q: What is your goal with these t-shirts? What was your inspiration?

Louise: There are a few goals. The main one is to inform people who may not pay much attention to the news or have the time to read newspapers. The T-shirt as a format presents some limitations, but also a lot of interesting ways of sharing information. So this experiment explores those different ways of story-telling.

As for inspiration, Rich was a Threadless subscriber — he was a big fan of their shirts. We actually had our first kiss while he was in his “Dog ate my homework” shirt. Our professor, Mike Essl, teaches a class at Cooper on information design, and that really got us hooked on maps and interesting educative visuals.

Q: How do you decide which news articles should be printed on your shirts?

Louise: We begin by pulling news items from Google news, which aggregates the most widely read stories online. From there we develop ideas about which elements of the stories can be expanded upon. We are definitely trying to shift away from story-telling on the shirts and more towards diagrams that can explain one or two key concepts of a news event or trend.

Q: Your project end goal, given your grant funding, is 10 shirts. Would you like to continue past that? Would you ever consider doing something like, but focusing on current events?

Richard: We would like the project to continue after the first ten shirts, but at the same time we feel the need to scale back our involvement. Producing the graphics, coordinating the printing, and fulfilling orders for the shirts is time consuming. We’re exploring the possibility of having guest designers produce shirts for the project. If that works out, and the project proves it can support itself, we might continue running it.

Q: What has been the response so far? Who have you found has been most interested in this experiment, and who do you hope to ultimately reach?

Richard: The response so far has been overwhelmingly positive. The people most interested are very similar to Louise and me. Many of them are designers, people invested in the concepts of the project and interested in our approach. Ideally our shirts would be worn by a wide range of people, spreading the news into places it may never have been before. That is a large part of the appeal of T-shirts for this project: They are an item of clothing that tends to transcend all boundaries — race, class, age, gender. T-shirts are universally worn.

Q: Which shirt has been your favorite to make so far? Why?

Richard: Our shirts are like our children, we love them all the same. (Except for maybe the Myanmar one. That could be our Meg Griffin.)

Murketing thanks Ada Puiu, and Louise Ma and Richard Watts of Murketing also thanks Paul Lukas for the original pointer.


Further diversion may be found at MKTG Tumblr, and the Consumed Facebook page.

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