top of page
  • tenleyschwartz

Burger Battle Freshness

I get all nostalgic about Burger Battle. It's the biggest project I worked on at a moment when I wasn't sure I was good enough. I tried things that even now I don't totally get. It set the tone for the rest of my work at DTSF: Playful, bold, outside the box.

That it is part of DTSF's cultural powerhouse of an event? Extra special.


It began like this, 10 years ago:

The previous designer created this logo for the brand new event. 7 restaurants serving up their best burgers. Diners ranked each burger using paper ballots. These votes were tallied by hand in a spreadsheet.

Shake Up

I began designing for DTSF in 2018, right out of my internship at Fresh Produce. I freelanced. I didn't know about self-employment taxes. Or a reasonable hourly rate. DTSF was launching a new app to tabulate votes. They also wanted a fresh new look for the 2019 event.

I tried so many things:

I drew from my experience at Fresh Produce--mess around and try stuff. Push it to an interesting and unexpected place.

For a long while, nothing made sense. Then, I landed on 'diner-meets-fight-night'.

It moved out of kitsch and into something rangier.

I found a font that leveled things up. In a stroke of perfection, it's called Hamburger Heaven.

I leaned into my strength: Illustration. Drew burgers, digitized them. In my early drafts, you can see me trying to take the easy route.

Wouldn't it be so nice if you could just stack shapes and have everyone tell you it's awesome?

But the work needed better. It needed me to suck it up and take the long route.

Which looks like this:

Ink drawings. Image traced. Those didn't look sharp enough. I traced them with the single line of the pen tool, smoothing everything.

It's always tricky figuring out how to make things polished. To take something messy and alive on paper and confer the energy to the screen. I always feel like polished conveys that you can't really figure out how a real human did it. But somehow, you also need the human energy to really make it sing. What's the balance? How do you get to excellence?

Here, you can see I'd landed on the punchy shaded lettering, and I'd also discovered Gaussian blur. This made the burgers glow neon-style.

The burgers are cleaned up, but still look lumpy and a bit busy. I was really trying to make that shading on the blue burger's onion work. You can see I'm still trying to figure out how these two burgers should interact with each other.

It was time to bite the bullet again and simplify the linework. Neon signs are efficient in their line use. These should be as well.

I'm still kind of impressed by how I managed this refining. I don't know that I'd do it this well today, honestly.

After that, it was fitting text around the shapes, making decisions on what needed to be said.

I pulled in gradients to make the letter shading feel more 3D.

Looking back, it's a surprising amount of gimmicky techniques that I barely knew how to wrangle. Warped text, gaussian blur, gradients. These days, I go for flatter imaging. But Burger Battle needed the dynamism. It elevated beyond a sketch and into something with energy and polish.

10 Years

My branding has has a good run. It's seen Burger Battle through multiple record-setting years.

Now the numbers to top are 44,000+ burgers sold and $1.3M in economic impact.

I thought about going all out for special 10 year branding. Badges, logo lockups. But frankly, I ran out of time. Or at least, time to wrestle with the bare bones to the extent that it deserved.

But I have made some updates:

2023 above, 2019 below.

Can you spot the difference? (Other than a little more sponsor & event info?)

That Hamburger Heaven lettering got tightened up. Even letter spacing, rebuilt the G. Smoother, cleaner, better. A touch up for an old friend.

It's always a mystery until it's complete. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

46 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page