In order to reflect this level of investment (from both the manufacturer and consumer) and in order to give the final product a feeling of quality that wouldn’t date, designers began to incorporate new touches into the graphics. Spot mattes, foil stamps, pearlescent lacquers and laser-etched inlays – such details added perceived value, and have helped set snowboard graphics apart from their skate and surf ancestors. Ask yourself what makes a snowboard look like a snowboard – why a Custom X graphic, for instance, would look out of place on a skate deck – and you’ll find it’s often down to a safe, abstract design combined with flashy details like a di-cut base or an embossed logo. As Lance puts it, “technical graphic applications have come to be a defining factor of snowboard graphics.” This subtle and often expensive approach is a world away from the loud screenprints traditionally employed on a £50 skateboard. It is, one might argue, a whole new art form.
As this new medium developed, companies became more sophisticated at using the artwork to sell their product. Graphics, the brands realised, were a key factor in the success of an individual board – and a driving force behind the brand’s own identity. They are a short hand way to tell potential customers about what they stand for, what each of their boards are for and where you, the rider, would fit in if you ride this board.
“Graphics are the front lines,” explains Lance Violette. “We can’t be standing there in every shop with some drawn out explantation for every kid walking by. With all snowboards, it’s the graphics which truly communicate the attitude and philosophy. They need to not only be able to speak for themselves, but also drive the ads and other marketing collateral.”
Graphics that successfully “communicate the attitude and philosophy” to their target market are what all companies are striving for. “The brands learn more and more each season about how to go after their customers,” says Aaron Draplin. “You’d be amazed at how pinpointed the graphics game is from the perspective of the companies doling out the jobs. They know what they want, and who’s gonna buy it. It’s pretty fascinating.”
But how does this all work? What kind of graphics appeal to beginners, for instance, and what makes a top end board ‘look’ top end? According to Lance Violette at Forum, a few basic formulas have been developed.
“For a lower price point, directional board, you really need to play it conservative. This person (let’s call him ‘Joey’) is probably pretty new to the sport. He sees himself as being just a bit more ‘radical’ so that is why he has chosen to snowboard rather than ski. Joey wants to buy into a bit of our culture, but he is not ready for total commitment – he wants to look ‘cool’ but not flashy. When shopping for a board he’s looking for a brand he recognises, knowing that he will have it for a few seasons, so the graphic needs to oblige.”
Photo: Bud Fawcett
This approach can be seen for yourself in many snowboard catalogues, where entry level boards often use limited colour palettes and heavy branding in such a way as to offend as few people as possible, for as long as possible. At the other end of the price spectrum, a similar set of rules has emerged to satisfy a similar rider:
“For a super high end board, most companies feel it’s best to play it a different kind of conservative,” continues Lance. “This person (let’s call him ‘Remy’) is looking for the best of best. In many ways Remy is a lot like Joey, but Remy has a ton of cash to spend on his kit and probably knows a bit more about snowboarding. Remy has all the latest tech and in most cases has done his homework enough to know that he wants a sintered base, stainless edges, etc. When it comes to graphics, most companies think Remy wants the ‘stealth bomber’ of snowboards and that is why many super high-end boards look the same – but I do not necessarily agree with that forumula.”