HOW BUILDING A DIRTY RAT BIKE MADE ME A BETTER DESIGNER

how building a dirty rat bike made me a better graphic designerI guess I’m a motorcycle dude now.

I never saw it coming, but the first time I laid eyes on that rusted pile of metal (that was supposedly a 1968 BSA A65 Lightning), I knew I had to bring it to life. It was too cool already. It was the fastest stock bike in 1968. Hunter S. Thompson rode the same bike when he rode with the Hells Angels (and outran all of them on their clumsy Panheads). It was made in the same town Black Sabbath was formed. I was smitten. Besides, what creative person wouldn’t want to build a fast, mean, loud, fiery death trap from the ground up and completely customize it to make it their own? Well, I know I would…

How I became a better designer

When I started working on the chopper build, admittedly I had no idea what I was doing. I thought I could just buy some new tires, rebuild the carburetors, rewire a few things and have the almost 50-year-old British twin back on the road. Easy enough. But after doing some irreparable damage to the frame, having it catch on fire (twice), blowing out two head gaskets, breaking spokes, chains, pushrods, clutch cables, foot pegs, valves, and numerous other (almost) catastrophic events, I knew this was going to turn into a process. But with the onset of a fast developing passion for working on old motorcycles, I wasn’t about to let the ole’ girl rot away again.

It has taken me over a year to complete the build, but I have learned many lessons. Some of which I can put into a broader perspective and apply to other aspects of life, particularly my career as a graphic designer. So here are my top 5 insights on how building a dirty rat bike has made me a better designer:

How i became a better graphic designer

1. Set Deadlines

I had a goal to get a running bike by June 28 to ride to Born Free 6. And although I won’t be able to ride it there because the DMV is bulls***! (ahem) a difficult place to navigate, I was able to bust out the last finishing touches in the previous few weeks by giving myself a deadline. The same can be said for any creative process. Setting a point in time where you HAVE to finish forces you to power through your blocks and enter the “just get it done” phase.

2. Fail Efficiently

Right now I have six wheels in my back yard. That’s not because I’m making an outrageously complex hexo-axled thing…It’s because I made a few bad choices. I repeatedly tried to make the wrong things fit and I ended up going through part after part trying to get one to work. With every direction that doesn’t work, you can take away what will to create the most functional solution. Work as hard as you can, try to fail fast and don’t get discouraged when you do. You will get better every time and the end result will be far better than if your first attempt marginally succeeded.

3. Do it Right

As a designer it can be easy to cut corners now and again. After all, nobody is going to know how your grid is set up when you cut that PNG… But when you are making a coil mount that holds a satanic barrel of lightning that throws a 1,000 watt electric spark to explode a gasoline mist 18 times a second going 100 mph (don’t worry mom I don’t go that fast) you better hope that thing is on there for reals. There is a lot at stake when you create something meaningful. As soon as your work hits the internet, it will be judged and any slip-up will be ridiculed. When that coil bracket hits the freeway, the quality of your creation becomes a life or death situation. So if you are going to take the time to make something, make it right. Figure out exactly what you need to do, think about the best way to create it, take the time to craft it perfectly, and it will last forever.

4. Balance Form and Function

When you think about it, choppers are impractical. Most times they are way too fast, hard to ride, no rear suspension, minimal braking power and down right uncomfortable. But damn are they cool. They have character and every one is different. You can buy the most functional sport bike or set a logo in Helvetica Bold, but that is run-of-the-mill. There should be a balance of functionality and form. Minimal parts means easy maintenance, longer front ends allow for better control on the freeway, and 46” ape-hangers give the bike a personality that makes you go “holy smokes what is THAT!?” We could live in a world of Helvetica logos and get along just fine, but I’d rather read that type as if it were on the verge of self-destruction. It would certainly grab my attention and leave a lasting impression.

5. Surround Yourself With the Right People

This build has definitely been a journey of internal motivations. But it wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have like-minded people lending a hand or an extra set of eyes. Surround yourself with the right people who will push you, give you feedback, brainstorm, discuss, admire, and drink a beer with you. That’s what it’s all about. Loving what you do and making something you genuinely care about. (Shout out to Sarits Fajits, The Eel, Appletini, The Bear, The Sunfish, Jen, HotSauceMike, Artie, Black Pizza, and countless others for all the help.)

how building a dirty rat bike made me a better designer

What have you built or created that made you reflect on your creative process? I’d love to hear about what you’ve made outside that Mac!

Brady Boyle is a Graphic Designer at MetaDesign.

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