Good Sportsmanship

Robin Donovan on appreciating the imagination behind a simple, yet novel design

So often, writing about a topic makes you begin to look at the world through that lens. It’s hard for me not to scope out what type of printers companies are running after working on our sister publication, Big Picture; I immediately notice the merchandising in retailers’ window displays after years covering interior design.

When I first visited a triathlete-friendly physical therapist for knee pain, I took a quick look around. A wall of tall windows letting in natural light. Niiiice. Rotating stools and exam tables in the same red as the clinic’s logo. Sharp. A bank of standing desks to save clinicians’ spines. Thumbs-up. (Also, a solid playlist, which has been surgically removed from most medical settings.)

The practice caters to athletes, to put it mildly. One 90-degree day, I dodged a guy streaming sweat on the sidewalk, huffing and puffing on a bike trainer in full sun. (Heat acclimation, perhaps?) An attached gym features some fearsome equipment I dare not touch. And the clinic does not only standard PT, but also hosts indoor bike trainer sessions, strength training for endurance athletes and a spate of other treatments that seem to involve some combination of dry needling and machines louder than a hotel ice dispenser. I haven’t needed any of that yet, thankfully.

But the most fun features of the space are dozens of colorful jerseys lining its walls, an almost-living “thank you” from past and current athlete-clients. There’s a Cubs jersey, a professional triathlete’s singlet, even signed photos from Olympians.

So when my PT, who has completed a freakish number of Ironmans and endurance events, is jamming his fingers somewhat painfully into the soft tissue above my kneecap (“I promise you, I’m not enjoying this”), the jersey wall is a good distraction.

It’s also really low-cost, low-key signage. They didn’t do it in a tacky way; the shirts are never falling down or hung at awkward angles. But what does it cost to hang a shirt on a wall? A buck? Call it less than $50 for one of the more effective “show, don’t tell” design deliveries I’ve seen.

I’m as impressed by a million-dollar video wall as anyone. But the creativity that underlies a simple yet novel design wins my quiet admiration. When I sat down to talk to signmakers about healthcare clients, I came across someone who again reminded me that visual impact is so much more than materials and machines. To meet Elizabeth Howard, and learn about her bid-winning concept, along with tips and tricks for working in this sector, see my feature on healthcare signage.

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