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What Makes for a Great T-Shirt?
Dragon's-Eye View
By Jon Schindehette

I don't know if I've ever mentioned it, but I love T-shirts! Some people collect shoes or baseball hats or ties—I'm all about T-shirts. I have so many shirts, I've actually had to start thinning the herd to make room in my drawers for new ones. That was a sad day . . .

I've found that my T-shirts fall into certain categories, too. In fact, I even organize them by those categories:

  • Motorcycle
  • Hot rods
  • Art
  • Humor
  • Life events

Oh yeah! And, of course, D&D designs.

I'm sure you're not really all that interested in my fashion hang-ups, but I'm bringing this up for a reason. You see, I was recently asked to be a judge in a T-shirt design contest sponsored by our partners at Araca. It's always a lot of fun being a judge. You see lots of cool ideas, and you can get a sense of what the community is really interested in wearing. Rather than just point at the link on my social media channels, though, I thought I'd write a short article on what makes for a great T-shirt.

I see T-shirts fulfilling one of several roles in our lives.

  • They let us self-identify with one of our passions.
  • They allow us to make a stand for something we believe in.
  • We can share our sense of humor with the rest of the world.
  • We show others that we're special because we attended, accomplished, or survived something of note or of limited scope.

In turn, our T-shirts also allow us to find like-minded folks because they wander up and start conversations with us about our T-shirt.

With this in mind, I like T-shirts that accomplish this type of messaging through a few simple techniques:

  • Secret handshakes—use a phrase or symbol that is known only by others "in the know"
  • Easy-to-read graphics, symbols, or text
  • Engaging images
  • Humor that is suitable for the target audience

So, now you have my insights into T-shirt design.

How about I show you a bit of an example at this point? We recently did an in-house brainstorming session to come up with some fun visual symbols that might possibly be used for a T-shirt. Dan Gelon, the D&D digital Art Director, did a little sketch that Emi Tanji, Richard Whitters, and I all took a hand in playing with. Together, we created a simple, D&D-inspired T-shirt design. What do you think? If you were a judge, would you be interested in it? Would you give it your vote?


You have insights. You have an example. Why not put this knowledge to fun use? Since everyone is welcome to enter the contest, which begins next week, I'd love to see you apply some of the concepts I share above to your own designs. And, as you dream up your designs, think bigger and bolder. Don't reach for the same low-hanging fruit that everyone else snags. Come up with something fresh and new. This will get the judges excited . . . and it should get the public excited, too!

Here's a quick look at some of the contest information, but follow the contest link to learn more:

    The theme is monsters in the Forgotten Realms.
    The winning design will be premiered at Gen Con 2013.
    There will also be a fan favorite that will be available for sale at DnDMerch.com.
    The submission deadline is Friday, June 28th.
    The contest starts on June 10th.
    More details will be available on June 10th at DnDMerch.com.

I'm looking forward to seeing what fun designs you submit!

Jon Schindehette
Jon Schindehette joined Wizards of the Coast in 1997 as the website art director. In the intervening years he has worked as the marketing art director, novels art director, and creative manager. In January of 2009 he moved into the role of senior creative director for D&D. Jon is a long time D&D player (started in 1978), and currently plays in a Tuesday night game and DMs a random pick-up game for younger players. He can be found on Twitter (@ArtOrder) and at theartorder.com.
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