SELL Student Games 2020 are cancelled.

Interview of Graphic designer

Here is our crew member Saara Varala, Graphic Designer and creator of our mascot Zest!

You have been designing SELL Games 2020 graphics, how did you end up making the mascot?

When I first heard about this project about a year ago, I was already told it would need a mascot in addition to the rest of the visual identity. That’s a part of what attracted me to come on board. I’ve always been into cartoons, comics, and video games, and I’ve dabbled in designing my own characters since I was a child. It was a welcome challenge since I haven’t had an opportunity to combine my interest in graphic design and character design much before. It even ended up becoming the subject of my thesis.

Were you given any thoughts of how or what kind of mascot should be, or were you given free design?

I was told what values the mascot should represent and who it would need to appeal to. Naturally, it should represent bravery, togetherness, equality and the spirit of sport. The project coordinators and the teacher overseeing my thesis also pointed me in certain directions: does the area we live in have its municipal animal I could draw inspiration from? Mascots usually heavily represent the country or area they come from.

Was it easy to come up with the idea of mascot? And tell us about the creating process.

It was a long process. At first, I researched different mascots through the history of sports to this day and wanted to make something that continues the traditions while also standing out and looking modern. My first idea was to make the mascot a brown hare, since it’s a common sight in Lahti and in Finland in general, and gives an impression of speed and explosive energy. In the end, I made its species more ambiguous by combining features from a lynx, the municipal animal of Häme, which Lahti is a part of. The fire elements are similar to the logo emblem of SELL Games 2020 that illustrate the slogan “light the fire”.

The design went through a lot of changes along the way. I have a huge pile of pencil sketches I made for it, but the final illustrations were made digitally. I tested people’s reactions to different versions of the character: did it feel like it represented a sports event for young adults? Zest used to look more childish before becoming its dynamic self that it is now. I modified the design when people said it looked like a mascot of a children’s event. It had to also fit in with the rest of the visual identity: its two colors are straight from the visual identity color palette, sharpness and retro feel bring it all together. Sharp edges and triangles also stand for energy, speed, and determination.

Tell a little bit about the name you have given to the mascot.

At first, I thought of different words for fire: flame, blaze, what have you. They seemed a bit too obvious and boring, they didn’t bring anything new to the character. Then I got inspired by the Finnish word sisu. Sisu is a word for fiery determination and enduring hardships that many Finns strongly identify with. It’s often the first word Finnish speakers teach to people who don’t speak the language. I began browsing through similar words in English and came upon the word zest. It’s a little different in meaning, more playful than the heavy-feeling sisu. It represents everything I wanted the mascot to be: excitement, energy and cheeriness. It also has a similar feel that many cartoon and game characters names have, it’s short and it rolls off the tongue easily.

How will Zest take part in the games, where or how can we meet him?

We took a modern approach to the mascot, there won’t be a person in a mascot suit walking around. Zest will be visible in social media and other materials. There might also be merchandise with its image, and we’ve planned to have gifs and filters for Instagram. A 3D model of it is in the works.

What has been the best part of this project?

Seeing the finished product. Designing Zest has been an educational journey, and I’m happy with how it turned out. It’s also been wonderful to see other people react to the character with delight and sympathy. The aim was to come up with a design that appeals to people and I feel I accomplished that.