Junior Ryan Lane has quickly climbed the sports graphic design ranks, designing Bleacher’s Report’s most popular Instagram post this year. Photo by Blake von der Lippe.
DEVIN ABELL | STAFF REPORTER | firstname.lastname@example.org
Ryan Lane’s alarm sounds at 6:30 a.m, just three hours after he went to bed.
Nonetheless, the junior digital media production major opens Photoshop on his laptop, ready to get to work on jersey swap designs for the day — designs that have garnered 1.5 million likes on social media.
“It takes a toll on me for sure,” Lane said. “There’s some weeks where I’ll get like 10 hours of sleep total, it’s rough.”
For Lane, it’s all worth the struggle. After all, sports have always been at the center of his life.
“I’ve played sports since I was a kid and I always wanted a career in sports,” Lane said. “Once I realized I wasn’t good enough to be a professional athlete, I just had to find something else.”
In his sophomore year of high school, that “something else” came in the form of graphic design. Lane began to come across sports design pages on Instagram and immediately took interest in wanting to create designs of his own. With this in mind, Lane started playing around with Photoshop during his sophomore and junior years of high school.
At first, it started as a hobby. He began creating designs based around his hometown Chicago sports teams and players. Although Lane had no prior experience, he continued to develop his craft as he made more and more designs.
“It was mainly trial and error,” Lane said. “The biggest thing I did to learn was to see something I liked online and just try to recreate it myself — whether it be playing around or going on YouTube.”
As Lane began to hone his skills, he started sharing his designs with his friends and received raving responses for his work. He then created an Instagram page — @designsbyrl — and as he began to post his creations, he started to gain a following. Lane said along with followers, he began to gain a clientele — mostly in high school football and basketball.
As he posted more consistently, followers began asking for custom designs. This resulted in more graphics, which led to increased exposure.
While Lane was doing this as a hobby — and free of charge — it didn’t dawn upon him that his success could propel him into a career path in sports media. That all changed, however, when a client approached him with the intent to pay him for a design.
“Senior year someone asked me how much do you charge, then I was like ‘oh dang, I can make money from this!’” Lane said. “So I then started charging like $5 maybe, and then from there I realized I could make this a career.”
With this sudden realization, Lane set his sights on pursuing a career in sports graphic design. Luckily for Lane, he already had schools in mind to which he wanted to apply — the University of Minnesota and Butler.
Lane already had a connection at Minnesota who worked as a graphic designer for the Gophers football team. The designer promised Lane that he would be able to work for the team from day one of his first year.
Even with this enticing offer to work with a Big Ten football team, Lane’s heart lied with the university that he grew up cheering for.
“I grew up a Butler fan so I’ve been around campus my whole life,” Lane said. “It’s been a school I always wanted to go to.”
Lane applied and was accepted into Butler, but before he could commit to university, he had to be sure he would have an opportunity equal to the one he was passing up at Minnesota.
After doing his research, Lane reached out to then first-year Adam Bender who was designing graphics for the Butler men’s basketball team. Bender was immediately impressed with Lane’s work, as he thought it rivaled that of his own.
“Seeing a guy that young like Ryan was a little intimidating,” Bender said. “It’s crazy to see what he was doing just for fun coming out of high school.”
After looking over Lane’s collection of work, Bender helped him get in contact with Butler Athletics and the basketball team.
Butler’s Sports Information Director John Dedman and Butler Athletics Director of Marketing Lindsay Martin sat down with Lane to discuss an opportunity for him to work with them as a graphic designer. Martin said they were astonished by Lane’s work and his level of professionalism.
“His work is fantastic,” Martin said. “We find that with younger designers, students are still trying to find their style, but Ryan as a first-year already had a really good style coming out of high school. It was phenomenal — we knew this kid was talented.”
Lane originally came to campus with the intention of working in any capacity with Butler Athletics. But as he realized the significant presence basketball had on campus, he set his priority for working with the team.
When Lane first started working for the team, the marketing department already had a look in mind for the basketball team and would ask Lane to make designs that matched their image. That quickly changed once Lane’s superiors recognized his talents.
“Once they realized I’m pretty good at what I do, since sophomore year they’re just like ‘do whatever you want’ and they rarely have a problem with it,” Lane said.
Martin, who now serves as Lane’s supervisor, said that his ambition to develop and create more designs from his own vision has been a huge benefit to the program. He’s often been in tune with what content Butler fans, athletes and future recruits like to see.
Martin adds that Lane and his proactive approach has been a huge boost to the department content production, as he’s been a one-man army.
“A lot of college athletic departments — especially at the Division I level — have in-house graphic design teams cranking out content all the time,” Martin said. “We don’t have that— we have Ryan. We get just as good content from Ryan as other programs do from their teams.
Although most of Lane’s work is often behind the scenes, he has created many designs that have been quite successful on social media with numerous admirers liking and republishing his work. From creating graphics for game day posts to announcing Kamar Baldwin’s All-Big East First Team selection — Lane has done it all for the program.
None were more popular than the weekly AP college basketball rankings posts that followed the men’s team throughout their early success during the 2019-20 season. Lane’s posts were most popular among students, as many would share his Instagram posts on their stories.
Since then, Lane and his designs have become well known throughout the student body. So much so that upon meeting new students, they would recognize his name because of the work he’s done for the team.
“It was cool for sure, although my personality isn’t one to get all hyped about ‘clout’ and stuff,” Lane said. “One of the coolest things was if I meet someone, if I say my name, they would say ‘oh that sounds familiar, you work for the basketball team right?’”
Lane’s nonchalant attitude even led many who know him to be completely unaware of his talents.
David Quintanilla, a junior sports media major, is a long time friend and first-year roommate of Lane’s. Quintanilla knows that Lane is one to keep his work and achievements under the radar.
“I know that for some people, if you’re close to him you might not even know about what he does,” Quintanilla said. “It’s great that he’s getting recognition by students and organizations. I just think he needs to improve upon self-promoting his own brand to others.”
The “brand” Quintanilla refers to is Lane’s Instagram account, which hosts a collection of the work he’s done throughout his career in graphic design. This large digital portfolio acts as a viewable resume of his designs and allows potential employers to reach out to him for freelancing opportunities.
This has come in handy for Lane as the sports world remains shaken up from the COVID-19 pandemic.
With most of Butler athletics being on hold for the fall semester, Lane was uncertain how many opportunities he would have this year to produce content for the basketball team. Fortunately for Lane, he will be in no short supply of work.
“The more I’ve been working with Butler, the more work that has been put out there and the more freelancing opportunities I’ve gotten,” Lane said. “I’ve been able to build up enough clients freelance wise because they’ve seen my work at Butler.”
On top of working with Butler, Lane is also the marketing coordinator for The Draft Network — a sports media company dedicated to providing comprehensive and unique NCAA Football, NFL and NFL Draft coverage.
The company originally reached out to Lane after seeing his work through social media and asked him to join their team as a design intern in 2019. Since his joining, the company has only grown in size and popularity. This has provided Lane with a few unique opportunities for someone his age.
“They were able to fly me down for the Senior Bowl in Alabama to cover the event and also get me into the media day for the NFL Combine here in Indy,” Lane said. “They hooked me up with a media pass so I could go take pictures. I was able to get photos of guys like Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa.”
Perhaps Lane’s most impressive accomplishment is landing a full-time freelancing role with popular sports media company Bleacher Report.
Towards the end of his first-year, Lane saw a post on Twitter from a graphic designer at Bleacher Report looking for designers to do jersey swaps for the upcoming 2018 NFL draft. Lane — prior to the posting — had spent hours of his own time making swaps on his own. So with nothing to lose, Lane took a shot at the opportunity.
“I was like ‘alright, I know how to make jersey swaps, I’ll hit him up,’” Lane said. “So I sent him my portfolio with the expectation that nothing would come of it.”
Luckily for Lane, his pessimism proved wrong — the designer and his team liked Lane’s work and hired him for the job. What was supposed to be a short-term hire for Lane evolved into a full-time freelance position for him as he astonished his employers with the work he did for them during the draft.
Since becoming a freelancer for Bleacher Report, Lane and his designs have been published and shared on social media throughout the sports world. Lane’s designs have landed on prized sports media accounts such as SportsCenter and has even been reposted by professional teams such as the Houston Rockets and the Atlanta Hawks.
While Lane’s designs are no strangers to garnering thousands of likes and shares — he’s had a few that have hit next-level engagement.
In July 2019, Lane was asked to do a jersey swap for NBA superstar Russell Westbrook — as he was just traded to the Houston Rockets. For what seemed like a usual run-of-the-mill jersey swap job for Lane, little did he know how much attention his design would receive.
Lane said that he couldn’t believe it when he saw his work exploding in popularity.
“A bunch of people from back home started texting me telling me that so many people were liking and sharing it,” Lane said. “It ended up on the ‘Moments’ page for Twitter and someone even told me that even Travis Scott reposted it and I couldn’t believe it. It was a surreal moment for sure.”
With all the success that Lane has had in his young career, it is no surprise that he has received numerous freelancing opportunities throughout his time in the design industry. However, one goal still eludes Lane — a full-time job as a graphic designer.
Although Lane is still in school, he has been no stranger to receiving full-time opportunities in the past; opportunities with professional employers — like the Cleveland Cavaliers — that require an undergraduate degree.
This leaves Lane with a dilemma.
“Being online, I realized I can go take a full-time job and still freelance for Butler basketball and study,” Lane said. “But even now, I’m not sure I would drop out. It would have to take a perfect team, perfect opportunity, perfect company.”
Lane has often wondered whether or not he should finish out his time here at Butler, as his upward trajectory into the field of graphic design comes during a period of transition in the industry.
As technology has improved and become more accessible to consumers, this has allowed younger designers to begin to enter the field without needing college-level training to be successful. Furthermore, Lane added that younger designers are more helpful than veterans in the field and that they help each other grow and gain experience in their craft.
“College kids are building high school kids up and vice versa,” Lane said. “You can learn a lot on YouTube and people are getting four years worth of design classes in just hours.”
As of now, Lane plans to continue with education and get his degree before he joins the professional ranks in the sports media industry.
Lane continues to find passion for his future career: he is always looking to improve his craft, while also critiquing his work to make sure he meets the standards he sets for himself. Although for him — it’s easier said than done.
“Usually what happens when I’m making [a design] is, ‘I love it, I love it, I love it,’ then I post it,” Lane said. “I wait an hour or two hours, and then I’m like ‘this sucks.’ It doesn’t matter how many people comment the fire emojis or say it looks good, I’m always going to look back on something that I’ve created and think of ways I could have changed it — that’s how it is.”
Despite all the success and praise Lane has received for his work over the years, he continues to stick to his nonchalant ways and remain humble to his craft. As an artist, Lane knows that the most important opinion on his work is his very own.
“Every creator in the world is their toughest critic for sure — I’m no exception to that.”