Considering the immense budgets Formula One teams spend on their operation, you’d think that all teams have big design and marketing departments. But at Haas, their Creative Services Manager Ryan Long is leading the one-man design show.
Before joining Haas, Ryan has been around in motorsport for a while. Originally studying architecture, he graduated in 2003 and decided to switch to graphic design instead. He was offered a position that many people dream of. ”I ended up in the right place at the right time to get hired as an entry-level graphic designer at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2006.“ From then on, Ryan kept working for IMS and INDYCAR for the next ten years and ended up as INDYCAR’s Art Director.
Fast forward to 2016. Gene Haas’ F1 team is about to hit the track for the first time after months of preparation. The team’s design groundwork has been laid by Jon Rowlandson which is a fantastic story in itself. And that’s were Gene Haas’ and Ryan Long’s paths cross. „I started at Haas F1 Team in January of 2016. With the debut season nearly underway the team were ready to bring the job in-house, and Jon handed the reins over to me.“
To this day, Ryan is the only in-house designer at Haas. During busy times, some 3D work or specialized photo retouching is outsourced. Everything else happens inside Haas’ headquarters.
Ryan’s jobs include small things like VIP itineraries, guest booklets but also the 'really big fish': car liveries, team gear, sponsorship proposals, driver autograph cards, … you name it.
Essentially, whatever the team needs, my role is to make it look good. There’s no job too small — I regularly design things like employee lunch invitations and informational flyers to post around the building.
Nowadays, livery concepts can be found on social media all over the place. However, as Ryan explains, coming up with an actual race car livery is a lot more complex than applying colors and shapes to a template.
In fact, the livery design process starts with the aerodynamicists. They define exactly which parts of the car can be painted or decaled and which can't. Weight is also a serious consideration for the race team. “Paint adds weight, and saving weight in F1 is supremely important, so we might choose to leave areas unpainted for that reason.”
There are a lot of rules and limitations in place before you even think about what the livery will look like.
And as always in Formula One, time is important. Car parts get painted in a paint shop which means they can neither be used on track nor be shipped to one. Even though it might be aerodynamically okay to paint a certain car part, it's sometimes best to leave it untouched for logistical reasons.
Even though Ryan emphasizes the freedom he has at Haas, it's natural that many more partners and shareholders need to sign off on the livery before it hits the public. “I’ll pitch a lot of options and variations and get feedback on those from the boss, and we continue that cycle until everyone is pleased…or until we run out of time!”
In public, Haas' liveries are often critizised for being dull and boring. According to Ryan, more daring livery options were explored. However, the team ended up with something more clean and harmonious.
The team's colour palette is based on the corporate design of their title partner Haas Automation – which is grey, black and red. “We don’t want to use a ton of red on the car because red is widely associated with Ferrari, so this leaves a lot of greys and blacks. While we probably won’t be the most colorful car on the grid as a result, our car does a very good job of representing Haas Automation and its world-class machine tools.”
Once the livery and the rest of the season's preparation are done, the actual racing season follows a certain rhythm. At this point, Ryan is mostly busy supporting the PR and Communications departments with social media graphics and videos, race previews, race reviews, and other small projects.
Even though it seems like social media content has only a very limited lifecycle, it's actually the most important part of the design job. “If your social media graphics are rushed and sloppy, your entire brand looks rushed and sloppy.”
All in all, Ryan describes Haas as a quite lean operation. He especially appreciates the freedom he gets to bring in his creativity and to produce things without sitting in meetings all day. ”Things work the way a designer wants them to work. I don’t have to spend my time making round after round of someone else’s changes or endlessly trying to defend my work.“
Design in general is always a matter of problem-solving for me, and as long as there are new problems being thrown my way, I’ll be motivated to solve them.
Thanks a lot to Ryan and the Haas F1 Team for the insights. Make sure to check out Ryan's portfolio if you want to learn more about his work.