They are some of the most recognizable images on the Palouse. Taped to storefront windows along Main Street, tacked up in sandwich shops, plastered on bedroom walls all over town, the team posters for WSU athletics are, seemingly, everywhere.
“Our poster starts everything,” said Casey Fox, director of marketing for WSU Athletics. “Then we take that look and use if for everything else we are doing.”
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Casey and his colleagues in athletics usually come up with the concept, but it falls to Eric Limburg, a graphic designer in University Publishing, to turn their ideas into a full-color poster that conveys the excitement of Cougar athletics.
“I love athletics. I’m a real fan,” said Limburg, sitting in his office in the Cooper Building on Grimes Road. “I have a passion for this and I think it really helps if you feel strongly about what you do.”
Pete Isakson, associate athletic director for external operations, agrees that passion plays a role, but talent is crucial. “Eric is– bar none– the best designer I’ve ever worked with,” Isakson said.
Isakson, who’s been in the business 18 years, said WSU is the only place he’s ever worked with the talent—design, photography and production—to handle team posters in-house. “These folks are the real deal,” he said.
In fact, he said, he’s learned to be intentionally vague when he talks with Limburg about a design project. If he explains exactly what he wants, he’ll get exactly what he asked for, he said. But if he gives
Limburg room to work, “he comes up with a better vision than what I gave him.”
Like any proud parent, Limburg is hard pressed to name a favorite, but one that comes to mind is In Your Heart and In Your Head, the 2006 football poster. “It’s just so different,” Limburg said.
While most posters feature some version of several athletes in action or a portrait of the entire team, the 2006 football team poster featured a photo from inside a huddle, looking up into the helmeted faces of eight players.
“It’s so much easier to do something if you have great photography to work with,” Limburg said, and fortunately he does.
All of the team portraits and set shots—including that shot of the huddle—are taken by WSU photographers Bob Hubner and Shelly Hanks. The action photos come from various photographers, including Hubner, Hanks and staff of the athletics department.
Fox said his current favorite poster is Friel the Excitement, the 2007-2008 men’s basketball poster. “It looks a little like a retro 1970’s rock star poster,” he said. Which seems appropriate, given the rock star-like reception fans have given the Cougars basketball team at recent home games.
In fact, said Fox, during initial brainstorming sessions with the coaches and staff from marketing, ticketing, sports information and the Cougar Club, they try to predict certain attributes that will define the upcoming season.
So, for instance, this year’s men’s baseball poster proclaims It’s Our Time. The poster features the entire team, arrayed in 10 different team uniforms, with the Bryan Hall clock tower and a gorgeous orange and red sunset in the background.
The design was relatively simple, but the execution was painstaking. Limburg had to cut out the background around 18 different players so that he could insert the sunset and emphasize the clock tower.
Another poster that is elegant in its simplicity, but was tedious to create, is the 2008 women’s swimming poster. Though it looks like a single photograph, it is actually eight photographs pieced together. The tedious part was lining up the tiles, both those behind the swimmers and those reflected in the water.
Creating a poster can take from six or seven hours to “weeks and weeks,” Limburg said. The 2008 women’s crew poster was one that really was as simple as it looks, he said. Using a single photo of the team on the Snake River, the poster took about an hour. “Those are the ones I like,” he said, and laughed.
Limburg first started working with the posters in 2002, but that was more as a technician, working with designs already produced by an outside ad agency to prepare them for printing.
A huge fan of athletics, Limburg thought, “I want to do that and I think I can do it better.” So, on his own time, he created a design for the 2003 football season that played on the idea of a cougar pack and the team’s PAC-10 championship in 2002. “Defending the PAC” was the tagline. WSU Athletics liked it and approved the design, but gave Limburg one more test.
For the next poster, men’s basketball, the marketing department asked both Limburg and the ad agency to come up with a design. When they liked Limburg’s best, he got the job full-time.
Since 2003 Limburg has created about 30 team posters, for every PAC-10 sport except golf, which has no home matches — yet.