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Today’s Layer Tennis Finals Has Designers on the Edge of Their Aerons

A weekly competition created by Coudal Partners pits designer vs. designer while fans worldwide watch live.

Lance’s comeback in the Tour de France isn’t the only sporting event fans will be glued to today. The global design competition Layer Tennis ends its season with its final match kicking off at 2pm CST. Layer Tennis, you ask? Those familiar with Adobe’s graphic design programs like Photoshop will understand all too well. When building documents, designers use “layers” to separate different graphic images. In Layer Tennis, a designer creates a layer which is then volleyed to another designer (sometimes on the other side of the planet) who builds upon that layer and ships it back. And this happens, live, over the course of a few hours every Friday afternoon.

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Aaron Draplin layer


An early volley in a semi-final match by Aaron Draplin.

The Chicago-based firm Coudal Partners (also quite famous for their
Museum of Online Museums and products like the Field Notes notebooks)
has rallied such a crowd that Adobe themselves came on as a sponsor of Season 1, which started in
September 2007. Now in Season 2, tens of thousands of designers who should be working check out each week’s match; in addition there are 9000+ “season ticket” holders who get to not only vote on the winners, but participate as well by using the files in remix contests.

Gregory Hubacek layer

Aaron Draplin layer


The return by Gregory Hubacek and subsequent volley by Draplin.

This graphic conversation becomes a delightful and highly-entertaining
game of visual riffs, clever pastiche, and obscure pop culture references
(many, of course, are inside jokes only for designers). To get the flavor of the game, watch the evolution of each match as the entire season is mashed together into this snappy music video. While most matches still use Photoshop, some use Illustrator…or even Flash (view the animated progression by clicking through the images). The way fans can participate has also changed this season: Thanks to Twitter, anything tagged with #lyt shows up on the crowd page, where fans can also vote for the winner post-match by Tweeting the tag of their preferred contender.

Gregory Hubacek layer


Back to Hubacek and a creepy twist (view the rest of the semi-final match).

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While designers frantically crash their Macs to turn the files around in the 20-minute time limit, writers like blogger Jason Kottke or author Ben Greenman do color commentary (I’ve even taken a few nerve-wracking turns in the booth as a commentator). Today, however, Coudal’s pulling out all the stops for the final: blogger John Gruber and designer Jason Santa Maria will actually be doing old-school Madden-style audio play-by-play. But come this afternoon, as the votes roll in for either Gregory Hubacek or Shaun Inman, Layer Tennis will finally be over. Which means next Friday, everyone in the design world can finally go back to work. Until the next season kicks off in the fall.

Related Stories:
Adobe on Fast Company

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About the author

Alissa is a design writer for publications like Fast Company, GOOD and Dwell who can most often be found in Los Angeles. She likes to walk, ride the bus, and eat gelato.

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