Behind The Scenes: SK Designs Australia 5

More than just an Instagram sensation, SK Designs Australia aims to flip the motocross graphics game on its head.

Behind The Scenes: SK Designs Australia

Sam Morton just liked to ride dirt bikes. He had no plans of being the creative mind and driving force of SK Designs Australia, arguably one of the most disruptive and innovative dirt bike graphics companies in the last few years. In fact, his design teacher in high school basically kicked him out of his class.

“He told me that I had no future in design and art I should get out of it and stop wasting his time.”

Thanks to social media, and a mold-breaking way of looking at graphics, Sam’s creations have crossed into the mainstream all the way from Australia. SKDA’s bikes caught our eye because they have taken the standard way of breaking up a bike and thrown it out the window. Rules of where graphics and lines begin and end don’t apply, standard colors are ignored, and even the numbers have been reimagined with non-standard sizes, outlines, and color choices.

We got on the phone with Sam, Director and Founder of SKDA to get to know him a little better and see if we couldn’t dig a little deeper into why SKDA designs look so different than anything else out there.

Vital MX: To be honest, moto graphics have been a little stale in the last few years and all of the sudden SKDA busts out with a whole new style of dirt bike graphics, even to the point where many up-and-coming companies have sort of adopted your style. So, basically, how this whole thing start?

Sam: Right at the early days when I was a racer I grew up racing, only amateur level, but I enjoyed it and worked pretty hard at it. I had an idea, I saw a kit, a dirt bike design that was done by Troy Lee, it was their Day in the dirt kit on a Kawasaki back, I think it was like 2009 and it was just so cool. Like it was so different. It was so clean and I absolutely loved it. And I had some ideas of how I could make a kit that was based around that with a few other customizations. So I took my idea in my own head to a couple of graphics companies locally who were around at the time and tried to sort of spell out to them how I wanted it done.

And I tried two or three of companies and no one could get it the way that I had it in my head. At that stage I was like, you know what? It was frustrating me. So I decided to get on to Microsoft Word of all programs because that's all I knew how to use and used the shapes and the abilities of word and customize this kit and sort of come up with a design myself. Then I took that artwork back in to one of the companies that said, this is what I want. Like, print this. So then they created a vector file and they print it up for me. I put it on my bike and the idea at the start it was only to make my own kit. I only wanted that kit on my bike. That's all I was going to do. But it looked amazing. I created a little tag for myself and put it on the bike and it looked awesome I was so stoked with it. And it was even back then, like it was nothing to the level of design that we're doing nowadays, but it was still different. It was still something that people hadn’t done. Because of that I had even just my close mates be like, ‘Man, that looks sick, can you make a kit for me?’ And then it's sort of just spiraled out of control from there.

So prior to that, did you have any graphic design background or were you an art kid growing up?

I guess I was a bit of an art kid, just unconsciously. Like I just enjoyed art. Early days in high school in year eight or nine, I tried design but my design teacher and I didn't really get along. So he told me that I had no future in design and art I should get out of it and stop wasting his time. So I got out of it and my plan was never really to return back to it. I stopped drawing, I stopped being interested in design. I just dropped it and wasn't expecting to go back to it until I sort of was forced into it by my bike situation. And now it's my full-time job.

Sam Morton on the left, talking with Danny Dobey of D'Cor Visuals on the right on a visit to A1. You would think that two graphics companies would be at odds with each other, but these two have a great relationship. SKDA actually prints graphics for D'Cor Visual orders that go to Australia and Asia.

I think for most of us riders, if we can’t find the graphics that we want, we just keep looking or wait for something to catch our eye. But you like HAD to have that particular graphic. Why was that so important to you? I think most riders would just settle for something close.

I think just because like it was just this idea that I created in my mind and it just looked the best. Like this picture I had, it was the best looking bike ever. I was really concentrated on the fact that I had that art style, I think that I had that design background in my own head, I could create the idea of what it could look like and how cool it could look. And I was so obsessed with making sure I had the best look, and the sickest kit out there. And you know, I always had the new gear because it just looked awesome. So I just had this idea and as far as I was concerned, that was the only kit that was ever going to look good again, like that was all I had. So I wanted to make sure that nothing was going to stop me from making my bike look like that.

I guess that drive and obsession is what makes you the owner of a graphics company and the rest of just picking out graphics. So, what are your main influences, design-wise? Because your designs don’t follow typical motocross trends.

Right at the start of the show, it was just literally just trying to put shapes on paper. Like I didn't know what I was doing. I had no idea. That one kit I did for myself, I had a very set idea of what I wanted so it was easy to create. But from that point forward I had no idea what I was doing. I wasn't a professional designer. I didn't know how the industry worked. So I'm literally just throwing stuff down and my early designs, you know, that's the sort of thing you don't want to look at nowadays. You know, it's just that there's a whole other level from what we were doing back then.

Nowadays to get inspiration for designs, I don't look at dirt bikes. There's no point doing that, because, like you said the whole industry is stale, like it all looks exactly the same. The kits always look exactly the same. And I guess there is a large percentage of the market that wants that sort of boring, you know, sharp, angry motocross style design. But we don't want to do that. You know, we're growing because we're doing something different. So I look at different things. I'll look at cars a lot, I'll look at MotoGP bikes, like the road style bikes, and I try and find ways to, instead of looking at a bike as a tank shroud and as a side plate and as a rear fender, looking at it as one big canvas that's all connected together and using the shapes and the area you have to put artwork that will be used in different sense. So yeah, like on a MotoGP bike or on the side of a building or on a car and just adapting it into the shape of a dirt bike, rather than just doing it piece by piece like everyone else does.

Yeah. That kind of leads me into my next question since a lot of your designs kind of ignore the natural segmentation of the bike. Was that a conscious decision? Or was that just something that ended up happening, or evolving with your designs.?

Very conscious, yeah. We're using that whole bike as the art board because that is something, like you said, it hasn't really been done. The first time we did it was a couple of years ago, we did this design where we started with the Suzuki and we called it our ‘KING’ design and it has the logo, it has the wording, so the words Suzuki or Yamaha or Honda are the whole way across the bike. It starts at the very back fender and ended all the way at the front of the tank with a big stripe the whole way through. And although, the cuts and the shapes in the bike sort of intrude on the logo because it is so big. But you know the bike is a Honda, so it is really easy to get your brain to add it up that, 'oh yeah, that's a big Honda logo.' Then all of a sudden your brain ignores the fact that it's missing parts and it ignores the fact that this bike used to be separate pieces and all of a sudden it's just one big art form, one big canvas. This design went off, like it went viral, man. It was crazy and it went everywhere and we got a really crazy response from it. And that sort of helped me to realize, ‘Hang on, you don't have to separate a bike, you don't have to listen to where the lines go and whether you're restricted by shapes.’ You can just ignore that, throw that out and make it one big art board as long as the shapes are clean and big and sharp, your brain adds up the gaps.

One of SKDA's break out design, 'KING'

So then we just started doing designs with that in mind. We did a kit called 'DIVIDE,' it was like our pinnacle, man, when we did that the whole world shattered, it was crazy. It's been our biggest seller almost ever since. And it's been replicated everywhere. You know, that design is all over the world now, used by everybody else and that's fine. Like, it's cool to see the movement of the industry that was caused by a design that we came up with. We cut the bike in half on a forward angle, which had never really been done. Everyone sort of would cut it on a reverse angle but we leaned the design forward instead, and then put a big bold stripe through the middle. There wasn't even any sort of smart design or crazy detail. It is just boring and simple and straightforward, but on a bike, especially on the track just looked like nothing else, it was crazy and we could change the colorways of it and it still really stood out.

The now famous 'DIVIDE' graphic.

So that leads me to color as well. There have been a few bikes over the last few years, like neon yellow Yamahas and some teal Kawasakis that have really stood out, but I feel like your graphics really embrace the idea that any bike can be any color.

Yeah, it's playing to the same tune. We want to do things that people aren't doing and because, why not? Like these things should be being done. The whole industry was stuck in this way like you said, of this certain style of design and the fact that you're Honda has to be red. You can't have a green Honda, what are you talking about? If you want a green bike, just go buy a Kawasaki. And I hate that mindset. It's just ridiculous and it's stupid. If you're sponsored by Honda and they are giving you a bike, then they want your to bike to be red because that represents their brand. But if not, then you're just buying a machine. It's irrelevant what color it is. If you want it to be a certain color and look a certain way and then you're not restricted, you don't have to have it as red.

It took a long time for the industry in Australia to sort of get their head around that. We had people that would get really upset with us and would send me abusive messages and emails every time we release a design that wasn't red for a Honda. People would just get upset. But we've sort of managed to break the mold for everyone here mentally and help them realize that, 'Dude, it doesn't need to be red, man. It can be whatever you want. It's just a machine.' Once people got around that and sort of start to become a bit more flexible mentally, the whole graphics industry changed, as you said, everyone else started doing it as well. But that then helped customers realize that 'Hey, I actually can change it. It's not really a big deal, and maybe it looks even cooler to have a different color."

And I’ve noticed you’ve carried that non-traditional color choice mentality to the numbers and backgrounds as well...

Yeah, we did a bit of a test a couple of years ago. We came up with the concept of, instead of following regulations for the colors of the numbers and the background, we decided that maybe that wasn't necessary as well. Once again playing to the tune of, you know, let's just be original and do different stuff. So instead of having the front plate color and the side plate colors matching, why don't we do them different? The only reason that they have to be a white background with a black number if your trying to stick to regulation for racing. But what we realized is the fact that there's way more people that have dirt bikes, that don't race as opposed to racers with bikes. It's like a 70/30 split, like it's massive. So why are we trying to design kits every time that suite the racer when the bigger market is the non-racers anyway. So we started releasing designs to test this theory out that had colors that were no longer regulation as far as the number plates go, and they became easily our biggest sellers almost overnight. So as soon as you throw that out the window, it's the same thing, your ability to just broaden designs massively and you can do whatever you want with colors and whatever you want to design.

Do you have any teams that you work with directly? I mean, as far as racing in Australia or in the US?

Yeah, so in Australia we've been a really close relationship with Honda. We've now uniformed Honda, so if you ride a for Honda or a Honda team, whether it be factory or satellite in Australia, then you are required to run SKDA graphics. We've had a wicked relationship with them that was built over the last five or six years now. We supply them with whatever they need.

Other than Josh Hansen and Broc Tickle, SKDA supplies graphics for the Club MX Traders Racing team in the US.

And then in the USA we're just really getting the ball rolling. As you guys know, we've sort of been in there properly for almost a year now and we're really pushing it hard. We've only started working with a few guys, like Josh Hansen. We recently got on board with Broc Tickle, he's running SKDA as well while he is working on his situation getting back into racing. And then we're also working with the Club MX guys, we've been supplying them with kits this year as well as a bit of a team sponsorship deal. And that really is just focusing on getting our brand out in the US and adding a bit of credibility to the name. I think all of the US guys, because of those designs, the 'King' and the 'DIVIDE', they already know who we are and what we do because they see it all the time on social media and on the website. But I think working with some of these local guys in the US gives our brand that extra bit of credibility, which gives confidence of the customer to make the purchase as opposed to just browsing online.

The graphics are designed and printed in Australia, but take the same, if not less, time to ship to US customers than domestic graphics companies.

Looking to the future, any plans to branch out into other products like casual or gear or anything other than just graphics?

I'm not really interested in that stuff. We sell a tiny bit of casual just as a marketing thing and just sort of spread the brand awareness. But we don't want to do helmets, we don't want to do gear, we don't want to do other stuff. We're focused on graphics, we've got it down. We're confident in our product and the quality. We're confident in the customer service around it. Obviously, we're confident in our design. We manufacture our own seat covers in house now we've spent a bit of time working really hard on getting those down to a quality that's just unmatched. We think we're making the best covers out there. And we're making those to be able to compliment our designs. Obviously, seat covers are a big part of the final look of a bike. If you want to change your Honda to green for example, as we said before, you can't run the Honda stock seat cover. So when making covers in-house now to compliment our designs, but with the graphics and seat covers, that's what we're doing now and that's all we are focused on doing.

So your main goal as of right now is to be on factory teams in the US and in Europe?

Exactly right. Yup. We want to create this brand to be THE brand, you know? If you want to think graphics, then you come to us. It's full-stop, nowhere else to go because we've got the best designs, they're the most unique, the best customer service. And that's always been the goal and ever since I started in fact, you know, 10 years ago now. The idea was one day we wanted be the biggest and best and that's still the goal now. We're a lot bigger obviously now than we were. And we are one of the biggest mobs around, one of the most well known, but we want to become the best. So we've got a whole lot more to grow to get to that point. But I mean that's the goal and always has been and always will be.

And if you are wondering if it takes any longer to get graphics from the other side of the world, Sam assured me that they have a great relationship with DHL and can get graphics printed in Australia and shipped to US customers as fas, if not faster than US-based graphics companies.

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