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Here’s how the slick STWM T-shirt design came to life

Curious about the sharp-looking design on Toronto's fall marathon shirt this year? We chatted to the designer who created it to find out about his inspiration and creative process

This year when Toronto Waterfront Marathon participants leave the expo, they’ll have with them in hand an item that’s kind of a rarity in the road racing scene: a finisher’s shirt that isn’t dull. A T-shirt is a staple at nearly every running event and by hiring local illustrators and designers to take care of its aesthetic, the race is really bumping things up a notch. This year, Matt McCracken is the creative eye responsible for the design that captures iconic Toronto landmarks that appear on the course. The graphic designer whose studio resides in the city’s west end founded his company, Doublenaut, with his brother Andrew and friend Ross Proulx. This trio would be especially recognized among Torontonians for their work creating the labels for Bellwoods Brewery. We got a chance to chat with this local illustrator about the inspiration behind the image that appears on this year’s shirt as well as the process of coming up with the final design. 

Canadian Running: How did you get into design work?

Matt McCracken: I’ve always been into art and I went to college for graphic design. My brother did as well and then shortly after graduating, we started Doublenaut – about 13 years ago. We always liked doing art and photography and graphic design seemed to be a way to do artistic, creative work while being able to make money basically. We just started a company when we were young and went from there.

RELATED: Well-known Toronto beer label designer gives trendy spin to city’s fall marathon shirt


CR: Did you always have the goal to go into business together one day or did it just happen that way?

MM: We both had jobs that we weren’t crazy about. I lost my job so I moved to Toronto. We were young and didn’t have much to lose so we started our own business together. We had been designing concert posters and doing a lot of merchandise for bands and album art on the side. We had a bit of a clientele that we decided we could try to do a real company full time rather than taking design jobs we didn’t really like.

CR: What do you like doing in the city when you’re not in your studio?

MM: A lot of different things. Toronto is a great city for a lot of reasons. I go to a lot of concerts and also the AGO (the art gallery) and other museums like the ROM. I think Toronto has great museums. It’s nice hiking in High Park and going to Toronto Island to hit up the beach and also just going to out various bars and restaurants with friends. There’s a good scene for food in Toronto. I love everything Toronto has to offer. I ride a motor bike as well with Andrew, we often ride around the city.

CR: Why is it beneficial to have a local designer create the shirt for a big marathon like this?

MM: It works well having a local artist do something to represent the local marathon. It worked out well with a lot of the landmarks that you see along the race route. Everything they suggested, I knew and was familiar with. Someone from outside the city might not be familiar with what the Toronto waterfront is all about and the symbols that represent it which I tried to include.

CR: Walk us through the process that went into this.

MM: For a job like this, we get art direction from the client and what they’re looking for. They were looking for imagery representing running and the marathon and the different landmarks that you see along the route. I just sat down and came up with a couple sketches. Once the client chooses the one they like the most, from there I get on the computer and actually create the design. It’s a lot of different pieces that fit together like a jigsaw once you have it on the screen. Once I was done, there was a couple small revisions. It came together fairly easily which was nice.

CR: How did you get approached for this? Are you from the running community?

MM: I run once and awhile but on my own. I’m not part of the running scene. We did some work last summer for Adidas Canada. I believe they saw that work and thought we’d be a good fit for it. I think that s the only running-specific work that we’ve done but I think they liked other work we did and thought it would be a good fit. We’ve done T-shirts and merchandise for various clients in the city too.

CR: Was there anything that you were striving for with this design?

MM: My initial thoughts were just to keep it sporty. A lot of running companies’ work is very clean and simple. I think that aesthetic works well for T-shirts. I like simplicity. I know with this design there’s a lot going on, but it’s done in a simple, iconic way with line strokes to build everything. It gives it an overall sense of direction, like you’re runners following a map. I was inspired by running apps the way you see the lines. I like working with big type too and I thought it would be neat to have type be the focal point and have the imagery built around it like a city map.