Team Backpacks & Patch Design

The ‘Ah-Hah’

Each year, Elevator Up plans an exceptional holiday party for its employees including a half-day experience with food, games, and a special gift. I was given the task to pick out the special gift that the team would receive. Honored, but nervous, I accepted. A few years back, the team received custom embroidered Patagonia fleece jackets. I knew the gift I chose had to be something personal and unexpected like that gift! My mind was blank for days until, bingo! I happened to notice a lot of the team wore backpacks to work, whether commuting by bike or simply a bag to carry their laptop while walking from their car. Our team is also heavily involved with the great outdoors and outdoor activities. I own a backpack from Topo Designs, an awesome company that sells high-quality, durable bags, made in the USA. I thought that those would be perfect for both work and the outdoors! To personalize the backpack, I wanted to create a custom patch and knew that would be the perfect touch to complete the gift and to make it personal. So, I got to work!

Designing the Patch

I started out by identifying items that could be included in the patch and not yet focusing on design. Since Elevator Up is a digital agency, I wanted to add some aspect of our creation and development, while also tying in elements of the team’s love for the great outdoors.
After multiple sketches, I took one evening to piece together the digital and natural elements to see how I could form various lockups. Some very literal, some more abstract. I wanted to keep with our brand colors by using orange and blue, playing with multiple shades of yellow and orange to complement. Also after some thought, I knew the patch needed to represent the elements of work and play beyond just the company name. I landed on the tagline Creating Experiences. At the office, we create quality products for our clients. Outside of the office, our team is always cultivating new experiences.

After a quick turnaround and making a mess of my Illustrator artboard, I took the best designs and snuck them over to show various community members to get their vote. The decision was pretty clear, and the finalist was selected. Next, it was time to move into production!

Production Time

In the past, I’ve looked into patch production online and couldn’t find any sites that would produce for any quantity less than 100–300. After doing some digging, I found a company that would do a run for as little as 10! I was sold but had to move quickly to ensure we could get them here in time.
 After submitting the design, they got back to us within 48hrs with a digital proof. The thread colors were quite fun too because they were selected as Pantone colors. Because of this, I was able to bust out my swatch books and make a few color adjustments with confidence. Then it was time to order the bags.

Digital proof

For the backpack we chose for the team, there were eight color options to choose from and were all quite unique. Instead of deciding on a color for each person or ordering all the same, we let the people decide! We didn’t want to spoil the surprise so we had to get creative. I made up a sheet with all of the color group options, gave one out to each person on the team, and had them check the box next to the colors they “would most likely wear.” We wanted to keep it interesting.

Left: sheets the team filled out | Right: bag color choices

The bags came quickly after, and the patches were just in time. Once I opened the patches, I noticed the colors weren’t quite what I expected. And because nothing is perfect, I thought I’d share this with you in case you wanted to give this a go for yourself in the future! For the background, I selected a yellow, light orange, and a darker orange for the ‘sunset’ colors. When the patches arrived, the two oranges blended together and there wasn’t much of a difference. When I took my Pantone swatches back out, the colors I selected were very different, but in thread color, they blended. But, all was good! I improvised, gave the patches a little TLC and got the colors to where I wanted. We were back on track and ready to continue forward.

Pro tip: When selecting Pantone colors for the thread, make sure there is a lot of contrast, more than you think. Below you can see a photo of the selected Pantone’s vs. the produced patch.
Also, some companies will send you one produced patch to approve before going into final production for the rest. Unfortunately, we had to skip this step due to lack of time but would have alleviated the color issue.
Selected Pantone colors vs. produced patch

Final Touches

The patches came in a few days before the party, just enough time to get them sewed on the bags. We opted out of adding the iron-on backing to our patches. Sewing is more secure, easy to remove, and in my opinion, looks much more fun. So there I sat on my living room floor, cruising through stitching all the bags while binging on some Netflix. I got them all sewed up that evening.

The bags were looking great and I had to take them outside to snap a few photos. They were all dressed and ready for the party a few days later!

Party Time

Finally, the day we were anxiously awaiting, party time and gift giving!
 After some deliciously catered Mexican food and card games, it was gift time. We handed everyone back their sheets of paper where they made their color selections to remind them of what they chose. We then brought the bags out one by one and gave them to each team member. I then gave the team a little insight on the backpack company, Topo Designs, and the meaning behind the patch and how the decision was made. Our Community Manager, Mackenzie, even hand-lettered name tags on kraft paper and stitched it to a felt fabric which then got tied to the bag. Beautiful work and oh-so-personal! They were a hit.

I know that’s a lot of build-up for a backpack, but I was thrilled. To me, the fun is in personalizing. I love seeing what you can buy or create that has the most meaning to fit the person you’re buying for. I try to do this will all of my gifts, and was happy to have the opportunity to do it for EU. And who knows, more patches may be in store in the future to add to our adventure packs 💚

~Jen Bancino, Designer