Jeff Knowles is the founder of London design studio Planning Unit and an Everton FC fan. Around 12 years ago, he came up with the idea to create a series of prints depicting English football stadiums from above.
“It just sort of popped into my head. There was a lot of football fan art around, but [most of] it was all very highly Photoshopped or quite technical … and I just thought, ‘is there a way to strip it back to the bare minimum?'” he says.
Knowles and his colleagues created a few designs and a friend of his had them printed on to t-shirts. Designer Mark Blamire also began selling graphic prints of the designs through his online shop Print Process, and German sports magazine 11 Freunde asked Planning Unit to create prints depicting the home of German, French and Swiss teams.
Over the years, the studio’s collection has continued to expand: Planning Unit has now created over 160 prints depicting the stadiums of every team in the English football league (the Premier League, Championship, League 1 and League 2) as well as famous venues from across Europe. Stadiums range from small city venues such as St James’s Park (home of Exeter City) through to Barcelona’s Camp Nou and Manchester United’s Old Trafford, which has a capacity of 75,000.
The studio has now launched a searchable Tumblr page which brings together all of his designs and an updated set of graphic prints is available to buy on Print Process.
Designs are created in Illustrator by piecing together images from Google Maps, Bing and Apple Maps: “Some of the lower league clubs only have a stand down one side and a portacabin, so you can do that in 10 minutes, but something [more complicated] like Old Trafford will take up to three hour or four hours,” explains Knowles.
The prints offer design-conscious footie fans a more minimal alternative to framed photos of stadiums and players. Each one comes in the relevant club’s colours and is devoid of all text save for street names and a credit.
Beyond their aesthetic appeal, the prints serve as a reminder of match days – of the chants, the goals, the elation, the disappointment, the half-time snacks and the thrill of watching the beautiful game in a stadium with thousands of other fans.
Designs have been shared around the internet and Knowles says he has encountered fans wearing his football stadium t-shirts on match days. He and Blamire also had to send a cease and desist notice after a company in the US began selling suspiciously similar designs. “Once you do these kind of projects, you never know who will see it or where it’s going to end up,” says Knowles.
Planning Unit was recently received a commission from Nike to create a series of prints depicting American college football stadiums from above, after someone from the company spotted the Football Stadiums project on social media.
“I got an email from someone who said he’d seen one of our prints on Pinterest and had been meaning to get in contact for a couple of years. He asked us to do the same thing for NCAA grounds … and we ended up doing designs for about 15 teams, which they put on t-shirts and sold as merchandise,” explains Knowles.
The college football stadiums were more complicated to create due to the fact they are open air: “We had to design all the walkways and the seating plan so those came with their own set of problems,” says Knowles.
The Football Stadiums project has become a never-ending labour of love for Planning Unit: the studio has had to update several prints to reflect stadium refurbishments and recently redesigned some prints to ensure the series had a consistent look and feel. Planning Unit is now working on a book about the project and hasn’t ruled out adding more prints to the series in the future. “Once you start something like this, it’s hard to stop – so we’ve just carried on going and one thing has led to another,” he adds.