Discover more from Uni Watch
Ask Me Anything
The latest installment in an occasional Uni Watch series.
Hello! It’s time for another round of “Ask Me Anything,” where Uni Watch readers submit questions and I do my best to respond to them.
If you want to catch up on previous AMA installments, look here, here, here, here, here, and here. There are 11 additional editions, dating back several years (when I was calling it “Question Time” instead of AMA), here.
Uni Watch is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Without further ado, here we go:
Part of your job often involves cold-calling teams, coaches, and players and asking extremely specific questions about uniform minutiae. What do you feel as you're contacting these people? Does it make you anxious or weird? It's always awesome when someone Gets It™, but I would imagine that’s not always the case.
This is a weird thing for a reporter to admit, but I hate cold-calling — and not just for uni-related stories. It often makes me nervous, and I often find myself relieved if the call goes to voicemail and I can just leave a message. But I rarely find myself having to cold-call these days. Since I often have to go through a publicist or some other gatekeeper, I’ll just send an email or DM. That works fine and doesn’t stress me out.
But as to your larger question: Even if I’m emailing or DMing, I’m often asking a stranger about very granular uni-related details, so I try to frame things in the most inclusive way possible. For example, I don’t just say that I’m interested in the topic — instead, I say that my readers are interested.
One thing I never do is say something like “I know this may sound silly, but…” or “I’m sorry to bother you with something so minor, but…” That just trivializes my work, my beat, and my readers. I always try to inquire in a positive manner.
How do you feel about MLB’s new “4+1” rule? On the one hand, it cuts down on alternates. On the other, it seems to have been dictated by Nike.
First of all, I hate the idea that five uniforms — home, road, two alternates, plus City Connect — is somehow “four plus one.” It’s just five! CC is just another alternate, and treating it as a separate category is a(nother) subtle form of corporate nonsense.
In the larger picture, I generally dislike any uniform protocol that’s applied as a league-wide “one size fits all” dictum. Teams like, say, the Yankees or Tigers will obviously take different approaches to their uniform programs than, say, the Diamondbacks or Rangers, so trying to lump them into the same guidelines seems silly at best. (I think the same thing about all NBA teams having to have four “editions.”)
And yeah, the idea that this protocol appears to have been handed down by Nike is annoying, in a “tail wagging the dog” kind of way. But I suspect that that may be an oversimplification, and that there are probably more elements to this than simply Nike dictating terms to the teams.
When the Detroit Lions debuted their new uniforms in 2017, I was hoping they would incorporate a chrome helmet into their uniform set. Alas, that did not happen. In fact, no NFL teams have chrome helmets, although a boatload of NCAA teams do. Is there a rule in the NFL prohibiting chrome helmets?
Not that I’m aware of. Now that the one-shell rule has been lifted, maybe we’ll see an NFL team experiment in that direction.
You certainly enjoy design aesthetics — not just for sports, but in the larger world. Do you ever wish that you had become a designer, instead of a writer or critic?
I love writing and feel like that’s my most natural creative milieu, so I have no regrets about taking my career in that direction. It’s always felt like what I’m “supposed to do,” for lack of a better term.
I don’t think I have the artistic or visual-projection skills to be a professional designer, but I do often find myself wishing I could enhance those skills a bit. So once I retire from full-time writing (not sure when that will be), I’m thinking I may take a design course or two.
Why did the Dodgers decide to drop the white shadow/outline on their road uniforms in 2007?
I know this isn’t a satisfying answer, but it’s just one of those things where they decided that the design would look better without the piping. Styles change, trends change, and so on. What seemed to make sense one day may seem different the next day.
If you could own the Cowboys, would you finally unify the uniform’s various shades of blue in the uniform to match each other? If so, which blue would you choose?
After all these years, I feel like the Cowboys’ non-matching shades of blue, however nonsensical they may be, have become part of the team’s visual fingerprint. I felt the same way about the non-matching “D” logos on the Detroit Tigers’ caps and jerseys, and I hate that they changed that a few years ago. So I wouldn’t mess with the Cowboys’ colors, and I hope they don’t mess with them either.
In your recent interview with Steve Albini, you asked him which band logos he liked. Are there any band logos you particularly like, and does liking the band affect how you feel about its logo?
Although I’ve had some fun playing around with band logos, I tend to be conflicted about them because they make the band seem more like a brand, or an institution, or a corporation, or a cult, instead of a creative/artistic endeavor by human beings. I might make an exception for Chicago (a band I’ve never liked), because the repeated use of their script logo in various contexts on a succession of album covers felt like its own long-running art project, and they were the first band to do something like that.
All of that said, however: One of the logos Albini mentioned — for the Dutch punk band the Ex — is just a spectacular piece of graphic design. I’ve always loved that one.
What is your favorite rock band uniform? I know, wearing a uniform is very un-rock and roll, but I would say bands like Kiss and Devo and the Ramones definitely wore uniforms.
I’m more okay with stage costumes as opposed to logos, because how you dress is part of live performance. That’s not to say a band has to have a consistent “uniform” onstage, but it can be a fun thing. And you already mentioned my favorite: the Ramones, for sure!
Does it surprise you that maroon or burgundy is used so infrequently in American professional sports? It seems quite prevalent in European soccer and collegiate sports, but the only Big Four pro teams that use it are the Commanders (NFL), Cavaliers (NBA), and Avalanche (NHL).
We could add the Phillies to your list, by virtue of their throwbacks, but your larger point is well taken: Maroon is indeed under-utilized in the uni-verse these days. Honestly, if you had asked me, “Quick, off the top of your head, how many Big Four teams use maroon?,” I probably would have said seven or eight, just as a guess. So yes, I’m surprised that more teams don’t use it.
Why do you think more teams don’t change their names when moving locations? Yesterday, I had to explain to someone why the Lakers were using their old Minneapolis logo as a throwback.
A lot of times, the owners just don’t want to let go of the names. I know some people think a team should always have to leave its name behind if it moves to a new city, but I think it’s more complicated than that. A little over a year ago I did three long pieces exploring the issues surrounding teams that changed their names when moving to a new location, teams that should have changed their names when moving to a new location, and teams that changed their names without moving, so you might want to check out those articles.
I miss those extracurricular projects too! I’ve scaled them back for a couple of reasons:
First, ever since ESPN let me go in 2019, I’ve had to work a lot harder in order to make a living from Uni Watch. The weekly feature-length pieces that I do here on Substack (and on Bulletin before that) tend to entail a lot more work — and thus take a lot more time — than the pieces I wrote for ESPN. I enjoy the work, and it’s great that readers are willing to pay for it, but it leaves me with less time and energy for other projects.
Like a lot of people, I found that the pandemic led me to reassess the role that work plays in my life. So when I do find myself with a bit of down time, I’m less likely than I once was to think, “Oh good, now I can work on that side project I’ve been meaning to get to.” Instead, I think, “Oh good, now I can read a magazine” (or hang out with friends, or visit my mom, or stream a movie, or whatever). Honestly, when I look back at the number of projects and the amount of creative work I was producing a while back, it seems insane and unsustainable. I still enjoy being productive, but I probably have healthier boundaries now than I did back then.
As many of you know, I had some turmoil in my personal life last year. The build-up toward that took a toll, and so did its aftermath. In some ways, redecorating Uni Watch HQ has been a bit of a creative project, which is why I’ve shared some aspects of it on the blog. But I just haven’t felt like I’ve had the full emotional bandwidth for a new media project.
All of that said, I do have some other ideas rattling around in my brainpan. I hope I’ll be able to start one of them soon, or at least soon-ish.
Also, for what it’s worth, I do think the new “Can of the Day” segment, which I recently added to the blog, is really fun, even if it’s not a full-blown creative endeavor. Hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am!
Are you going out less than before? The “What Paul Did Last Night” segment, with its “Get Out More!” tag, has all but disappeared lately from the blog.
I still get out and about a lot, but I’ve felt less compelled to share all of my movements and activities, maybe for some of the same reasons I just spelled out in response to the previous question. Also, sometimes I just have drinks with a friend instead of seeing a particular performance or attraction or whatever, so there isn’t much to say about that. Also, frankly, the “What Paul Did…” segment tended not to generate much response, so I got the impression that nobody much cared (which is fine, of course). But since you asked, maybe I’ll start documenting my activities a bit more. Thanks for the poke!
Do you like the Falcons’ 1966 home uniform and think they should wear it today as their new standard?
I love that Falcons uni and wish the team would wear it full-time instead of once a year as a throwback, but that doesn’t seem to be the aesthetic direction they’re taking these days.
Why do teams that wear yellow so often refer to that color as gold?
Because it sounds better — more fancy, more aristocratic, more sophisticated, more elite, more luxe.
All of which, obviously, is just mythmaking and marketing nonsense. Although I occasionally slip up, I do my best to say “yellow” when referring to teams like the Commanders, the Bruins, the A’s, the Cavs, and so on. I reserve “gold” for teams like the 49ers, the Saints, and Notre Dame.
Hell, Uni Watch colors are green and yellow — nothing wrong with that!
How does a college or professional football player choose or select the helmet and mask combination they will wear? What's the process? Who's involved?
For the NFL, and also for many major college programs, the big helmet manufacturers will visit the team’s facilities and showcase their various products. So a player can discuss his needs and concerns with the manufacturer’s rep, and of course the team’s equipment manager will also be part of the process.
Smaller college programs and sub-NFL pro leagues (the XFL, the USFL, etc.) sometimes have team-wide deals with one specific manufacturer, just like a league or a school will have an outfitting contract with a uniform supplier. So in those instances, the player has few options to choose from. But the basic process is the same: The player will want to establish a comfort level in terms of fit, field of vision, safety issues, and so on. For some players, things like aesthetics and superstition can also factor into their decisions.
Judged as a complete aesthetic uniform experience, what is the most visually pleasing league out there today? Any sport, any level.
Hmmm. I’m going to stick to the Big Four plus college football and college hoops. Let’s consider them one at a time:
NFL: The only Big Four pro league without uni ads, which counts for a lot. But lots of sock shenanigans and an increasing number of silly uni combos.
MLB: My favorite sport from an overall aesthetic standpoint, but the pajama situation shows no sign of abating and the addition of uni ads this season is a travesty.
NBA: The uni ads are bad; the endless churn of alternate uni “editions” is worse.
NHL: Pretty good-looking league overall. Too bad about the uni ads and the new digital board ads.
College football: No ads! But too many uni changes, too many combos, not enough consistency.
College hoops: See college football.
In short: No league is perfect. But I think I’ll go with the NHL.
I was recently watching hockey on TV and was again struck by how disruptive the digital advertising along the boards can be. I've found the digital TV advertising on basketball courts and baseball fields equally disruptive. Do you think there is any chance of digital TV advertising ever being scaled back due to viewer pushback? Or are the leagues too fat and happy on that sweet advertising money to make a change?
It’s worth remembering that some teams or leagues may be locked into contractual arrangements that prevent them from scaling back the digital ads, even if they want to.
Such contractual issues notwithstanding, the new NHL board ads have been pretty widely critiqued, so I suspect that the league may attempt to at least troubleshoot that system.
As streaming options continue to proliferate, I can also imagine a scenario in which fans could be offered the option to pay for a broadcast without digital ads, much the way people can pay for an ad-free podcast (or, um, pay to subscribe to an ad-free Substack like this one).
Aside from that, though, it’s hard to envision advertising’s footprint getting smaller in the sports world (or anywhere else). The history of advertising is generally that it keeps worming its way into new spaces and onto new surfaces. Unfortunately, I don’t see that changing, in sports or anywhere else.
What are some of your favorite TV shows, pre-1985?
I’ll say that these used to be some of my favorite shows from that era, although I haven’t watched most of them in decades and suspect that some of them may not have aged very well:
The original Star Trek
The 1970s Bob Newhart Show
The Odd Couple
Monty Python’s Flying Circus
The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin
All in the Family
Sanford & Son
The Rockford Files
The Twilight Zone
The White Shadow
Lots of cartoons, including all the Warner Bros. classics (Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, etc.), Rocky and Bullwinkle, some Hanna-Barbera stuff (Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Quick Draw McGraw), etc.
I certainly watched plenty of other shows (I watched way too much TV as a kid), probably including some really good ones that I’m forgetting at the moment. But the ones I just listed definitely left an impression on me.
Why is it such a big deal that some MLB teams are doing away with their road greys? Baseball is the only sport where this is a thing. Every other sport has colored uniforms and white uniforms. Is it strictly about tradition?
First, I don’t think it really works to say, “Well, this sport does it this way, so why can’t this other sport do it too?” Different sports have different cultures, different histories, different everything. Hell, before the rise of television, many football teams had only one uniform, while baseball teams always had two. That doesn’t mean one sport was “right” and the other was “wrong”; it just means that the two sports developed differently and had different priorities, different norms, and so on.
Now then: If you care a lot about baseball and care a lot about uniforms (I check both of those boxes), it’s understandable that you’d also be somewhat wedded to the idea of teams wearing grey on the road. People who care about uniforms tend to gravitate toward systems and protocols, and one of the longstanding protocols of baseball is that you wear white at home and grey on the road. It’s just what we’re used to seeing, what baseball is “supposed to look like,” especially at the big league level. When I see a team in a solid-colored alternate jersey, my immediate thought is “minor league,” or even “high school.”
So when you ask if some fans’ devotion to road greys is “strictly about tradition,” I guess you could say that, yes. But I think that’s a perfectly reasonable reason for liking road greys.
I’ll add one other thought: Grey uniforms, much more than whites or colors, feel like that last connection to the flannel era. There’s something about a grey baseball uni that feels vaguely textured and flannel-eque, even when rendered in polyester. Back in 2010, Under Armour was experimenting with a faux-flannel grey fabric featuring heathered details that mimicked the textural look of real flannel. I’m not sure why that didn’t catch on, but I wish Nike would try that for MLB teams.
You’ve mentioned a couple times that MLB (and maybe one other league that I can’t recall right now) will no longer respond to your inquiries because they don’t like things that you’ve written about their uniforms. Have you ever considered creating a fake persona, just so you can get answers to your various questions?
Ha! No, I’ve never done that, or even considered it. A fun idea, but I think it would be logistically complicated. More importantly, as someone whose work is devoted to truth, facts, reality, and so on, I don’t want to acquire information by lying.
Have you ever considered doing a Uni Watch post about the New York City Marathon? Although the participants don’t necessarily wear official uniforms, you could comment on things like the design of the numbered race bibs, the runners’ colorful shoes and gear, the various costumes that some participants and onlookers wear, the marathon logo itself, the painting of the famous blue line that guides runners through the route, and so on.
I’m pretty sure I’ve occasionally run sub-ledes about the NYC Marathon, or at least linked to slideshows that other media outlets posted. But it’s true that I’ve never done a full-blown post about it. I’ll keep that idea in mind when this year’s race comes around in November!
The Carolina Hurricanes have recently been wearing red helmets with their white road uniforms. I thought NHL teams had to wear white helmets when wearing their white uniforms (which Carolina always used to do). Has this rule changed, or did Carolina make a special request? And can you see this leading to the NHL eliminating home and road uni designations and allowing games to go color vs. color, as the NBA has done?
I always thought the “white helmets with white jerseys” thing was a convention, not a rule. Either way, I imagine that Carolina ran it by the league, just so nobody was blindsided by it.
As for this leading to the elimination of designated home and road uniforms, I don’t see that happening in the NHL anytime soon. Hockey tends to be more tradition-bound than basketball, and I suspect it’ll take a lot more than some mixed-and-matched headwear to change that.
Growing up in England, I was used to soccer and rugby matches being color vs. color. Some teams chose white but it was by no means required. Since coming to the U.S., I’ve found it annoying that there’s almost always one team in white. I understand the original rationale behind it, but black-and-white television isn’t an issue anymore, yet the tradition survives. I would prefer to see more color vs. color matchups, like the NBA now does. Imagine the NFL with the Packers in green vs. the Bears in blue, or blue Colts vs. red 49ers, or aqua Dolphins vs. navy Patriots.
When the NBA began allowing color/color games in 2017, I was all in favor of it. I thought the explosion of color would be a visual feast.
Five seasons later, I’ve changed my tune — it turns out that I prefer to see one team wearing white. Why? Several reasons:
In the NBA and also the NHL (but not necessarily the NFL), I usually think a team’s white uniform is its best uniform. So cutting down on the number of white-clad games usually means cutting down on the sport’s overall aesthetics, at least for me.
Some color matchups don’t go well together. (I don’t think I’d want to watch your proposed Dolphins/Pats pairing, for example.) But almost any color looks good, or at least acceptable, when matched up against white.
I find that having a white-clad team makes the entire game look brighter in a way that I find pleasing.
That’s not to say we can’t ever have a color/color game. It’s fun when UCLA and USC do it, for example, and I’m sure we could find a similarly good-looking matchup or two in just about every sport. But I’d rather restrict color/color to special occasions, so I hope other leagues don’t follow the NBA’s lead.
What is your gut feeling about whether or not the Denver Broncos will sport new primary jerseys either in 2023 or 2024?
The Broncos have hinted that new uniforms are in the works. I don’t see it happening for 2023, but 2024 seems possible, or even likely.
I can understand when a uniform designer goes for a big swing and ends up missing. But how do we explain something that’s really simple and misses the mark just as badly, like Great Britain’s World Baseball Classic uniform? Is it deadline pressure, or what? I'd love to know your thoughts on this.
It’s truly hard to fathom how that British uni came to, uh, fruition — and with Nike behind it, no less! As you rightly point out, most awful uniforms are awful because they try too hard, but this one isn’t trying at all. I’m as dumbfounded by it as everyone else seems to be. Just an inexplicably bad uniform.
(Update: About an hour after I wrote that last paragraph, the Brits found a way to make their uniforms even worse.)
What are your all-time favorite baseball stirrups?
So many great designs to choose from! This is one of those questions that I might answer differently depending on which day you ask me. But since you asked me today, I’m going with the Houston Colt .45s:
Here’s an action shot that really shows off the stirrups’ magnificence, even in black-and-white:
Do you ever deal with anti-Semitism in your daily life? I don’t mean just reading about it in the news.
No, thankfully. One reason for that, I’m sure, is that my name doesn’t sound particularly Jewish. Our family name was actually Lewkowitz, but my parents changed it to Lukas shortly after they got married, so Lukas is what I was born with. Also, I don’t really “look Jewish,” especially by NYC standards (people more often guess that I’m Italian or Greek), so there’s that. One time in 1989, however, my then-girlfriend and I were in a bar in Mississippi. This one guy kinda eyed us suspiciously and said to me in this slow Southern drawl, “What’s your eth-nic-i-ty?” I invited him to guess. He looked me over, scrunched up his face like he was thinking real hard, and then said with a scowl, “You a Jew?”
We got out of there fast.
You often complain about the aesthetics of NFL games in domed stadiums. If you had to choose, which one provides the best-looking game experience? The worst?
Whenever I critique the look of a televised game at a domed NFL stadium, I inevitably hear from people who say, “You don’t know what you’re talking about! It’s a great place to watch a game!! You’ve probably never even been there!”
So if you are a Detroit Lions fan, let me hereby acknowledge that I’ve never attended a game in your favorite team’s stadium. Let me further acknowledge that the Lions’ stadium, for all I know, may indeed have the best sight lines, the friendliest ushers, the coldest beer, the coolest scoreboard graphics, the most luxurious luxury boxes, the most well-spoken P.A. announcer, the most enthusiastic cheerleaders, and a lot of other things that enhance the game-day experience. I have no idea about any of that because, as I just said, I’ve never attended a game there.
I have, however, watched quite a few Lions home games on TV, and they’ve all looked like crap. Ditto for Saints and Falcons home games, and to a slightly lesser extent Colts home games. There’s something about the way the lighting plays off the plastic grass in those fields — it always looks drab, too shadowy, underlit. The fake grass looks extra-fake. I hate it.
This doesn’t seem to be as big a problem for the league’s other domed stadiums, the best of which, in terms of watching a game on TV, is probably the one shared by the Rams and Chargers.
What uniforms would you consider to be “new classics,” or “modern classics”? Or to put it another way, what are your favorite uniform designs produced over the last 25 years?
Off the top of my head, here’s one from each of the Big Four pro leagues:
NFL: Late-1990s Jags. A thing of beauty.
MLB: Late-1990s D-backs. Yes, even with the purple. A design that I didn’t like initially, but it has aged extremely well.
NHL: 2000s Wild. Magnificent.
NBA: LeBron 1.0 Cavs. I like this better than anything they’ve worn since.
One thing I love about Uni Watch is the precision of your language. So why do you keep referring to the Rays’ retro Devil Rays design as a “throwback”? The uniforms are not period-accurate, because the caps and undersleeves, which were originally black, are now rendered in navy. To me, that’s a big difference — big enough that they shouldn’t qualify as throwbacks, especially when a more suitable term already exists: fauxbacks! Why wouldn’t Uni Watch, which is usually so careful about language, make that distinction?
Fair point! As we can see in the photos above, they also changed the cap logo. (The lighter-colored lettering is, I’m pretty sure, more due to the lighting.) So yeah, you could certainly argue that this isn’t a true throwback.
That said, I’m a little uncomfortable with the idea of calling it a fauxback. To me, a fauxback is retro-style design that’s either partially or completely invented after the fact, and I don’t think that description really applies here. It would also be confusing to refer to this Rays uni as a fauxback, because the Rays famously had those other fauxbacks. (In fact, I think the term fauxback may have been created for that design.)
So if this isn’t a throwback or a fauxback, what should we call it? An imperfect throwback? A “throwback” (in quotes)? A tossback? I’m open to suggestions!
Who are some of your favorite writers? This can be all-time or current. Novelists, columnists, reporters, cartoonists, whomever.
Some of my favorite writers at various points in my life have included, in no particular order: Jim Thompson, James Ellroy, George Herriman (a cartoonist, but he was brilliant with language), Tony Millionaire (ditto), Jim Bouton (only one book of note, but it changed my life), Steve Albini, Steve Rushin, Hamilton Nolan, Corey Kilgannon, Robert Christgau, A.A. Milne, Dr. Seuss, Rebecca Traister, Shannon Shark, Selwyn Harris, Nicholson Baker, Douglas Adams, Olivia Nuzzi, Caity Weaver, Anne Applebaum, McCay Coppins, Susan Orlean, David Sedaris, Lester Bangs, Rob Walker, and countless others.
You occasionally write about vintage sports merchandise catalogs on the Uni Watch blog. On the one hand, this seems like a departure from your usual mission statement of Uni Watch being “about what the players wear, not what teams sell.” On the other hand, these old merch catalogs, which I thoroughly enjoy seeing, just feel like they belong on Uni Watch. I don’t think I’d feel that way about, say, an NBA merchandise catalog from 2021, or even 2001. So as a thought exercise, where would you say is the dividing line between merchandise that does or doesn’t qualify as interesting for Uni Watch purposes? Is it just a matter of the year or era? If so, what's the cutoff? Or is there a more nuanced evaluation process?
Great question. Bear with me while I sort this out, one step at a time.
First, while it’s true that I often say I care about “what the players wear, not what teams sell” (it’s right there in my Twitter profile), I mean that mostly in the context of jerseys and caps. So if someone asks me about some crazy MLB “lifestyle” cap or a “fashion” jersey, or where a certain throwback jersey is available for ordering, or if I think a replica jersey is a better overall value than an authentic jersey (questions that have all been posed to me many times), my usual response is along the lines of, “Sorry, I have no idea, because I cover what the players wear on the field, not the merch scene.”
But that doesn’t mean I have no interest in other kinds of sports merch. I love pennants and bobbleheads and so on as much as the next guy. Hell, I’ve been singling out my favorite merch items for the annual Uni Watch Holiday Gift Guide for many years now. And Brinke Guthrie’s “Collector’s Corner” column, which was all about vintage sports collectibles, ran on Uni Watch for more than a decade. So I’m certainly not opposed to sports merch; I just don’t like retail caps and jerseys because I think they’ve had a negative effect on the uni-verse as a whole.
As for old catalogs: I feel like somewhere along the sports timeline, probably in the late ’90s or early aughts, we reached an inflection point when the merch world became more of a Merch-Industrial Complex. That’s when we saw the rise of BFBS (which was driven by merch), the trend of leagues having a single uni outfitter instead of teams striking their own deals (which was driven by merch), and so on. Prior to that, there was more of — well, I don’t want to say an innocence, but you could see that teams and leagues were still figuring things out, and there was a certain charm to that. Then they kind of cracked the code and figured out how to flood the market with formulaic crap (or at least that’s how it feels to me). So I’d say that’s probably the rough dividing line for how old a catalog would need to be in order for me to write about it.
But while it’s conceivable that I’d write about a catalog from, say, 1992, I’m much more interested in the ones from the 1960s and ’70s, because I feel like there’s a lot more to learn from the older ones, just in terms of seeing how merchandising and licensing worked back then.
I’m curious about your thoughts regarding a design detail that many of us see on a daily basis: the little red notification circle that appears in the upper-right corner of an iPhone mobile app’s icon.
I love this question! The red notification icon is one of those classically inconspicuous details that’s so ubiquitous, we tend not to think about how it got that way.
Personally, I find that I have a near-Pavlovian response to the little red icon. As soon as I see one, I immediately think, “Uh-oh, I better update my OS,” or “I better update those three apps,” or whatever. And if I don’t update them, then the red dot just seems redder and more judgmental each subsequent time I see it, silently shaming me into a state of existential angst until I finally go ahead and replace the old software with the new. (I’m apparently not the only one who feels this way.)
Who do we have to thank/blame for this? Some quick research reveals that the red icon was the brainchild of two engineers at Apple — Chris Marcellino and Justin Santamaria — who in 2013 were granted a patent for their method of “managing notification service connections and displaying icon badges.” Here’s one of the illustrations that accompanied their patent application, along with the key passage of corresponding text:
Okay, so that’s probably more than you wanted to know. I think the moral of the story is that even the smallest, simplest design details can have a big impact and a deep history.
Over a decade ago I met you at a bar in Manhattan, and you were kind enough to pose for a photo with me (attached). It was the one “celebrity” sighting I had while I lived in NYC that actually made a friend jealous, so thanks again for taking the time for the pic. Does that sort of thing happen to you often? Do you frequently get recognized and approached by fans?
I’d say it happens maybe three times per year, give or take, which is just infrequent enough for it to be fun, not burdensome. Unless I’m in the middle of something really important, I’m happy to say hi or pose for a photo, and I’m flattered that my readers get a kick out of meeting me. I assure you that the feeling is mutual!
That’ll do it for this round of Ask Me Anything. Big thanks to everyone who submitted questions, and apologies to people whose queries I wasn’t able to get to.
I’ll do another round of AMA in June. If you’d like to submit a question, feel free to email it here. One question per person, please. I look forward to seeing your queries!
Paul Lukas has been writing about uniforms for over 20 years. If you like his Premium articles, you’ll probably like his daily Uni Watch Blog, plus you can follow him on Twitter and Facebook and check out his Uni Watch merchandise. Have a question for Paul? Contact him here.
Uni Watch is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.