Tragedy brings out our best. Among the chaos of the Boston Marathon, we heard the stories of good. Strangers ran towards the danger, seeking ways to help those wounded. Visiting off-duty firemen and police flew into action. Runners, having just completed a grueling 26.2 mile run, ran to the nearest donation center to give blood.
Ben Thoma wasn’t there, but he felt compelled to do something. With close ties to Boston, the marathon events hit home for Thoma. He wanted to help, but he also wanted to express the emotions he felt, ones that people here in Austin, either ex-residents or ones with connections to Boston were feeling as well. He decided to do what he does best: design something.
The solution wasn’t overly dramatic or sentimental. No ribbons or contrived sayings of support. It came in a simple graphic that connected two cities. His work connected with other people, and soon that design was recognized for saying what many people felt — Austin stands with Boston. Or, simply, "BAUSTIN."
Thoma was born and raised in Connecticut. The Nutmeg State, while part of New England, serves as a dividing line for one of baseball’s biggest rivalries. “You have to pick pretty early if you’re going to root for the Yankees or the Red Sox," said Thoma. “Probably to my family's chagrin, I chose the Red Sox.” A born-and-bred New Englander, he spent plenty of time in Boston, taking in games at Fenway Park, and even working in “The Hub."
An art director at GSD&M, and one of the co-founders of CreativeMornings (a monthly speaker series for creatives), Thoma recalled how he learned of the events of April 15. “I was in the office and my creative director came over to me and asked ‘Do you know what happened? There are bombings at the Boston Marathon.'” Thoma put aside his design work and absorbed the horrific images from Boylston Street.
After work, Thoma found himself recalling the day's events with friend, Jared Cavagunolo, who just happened to be visiting from Boston. The presence of his friend stirred Thoma to find a way to support those affected. He recalled the events of 9/11. It was in the wake of those tragedies — when and how people responded — that sparked the designer in him.
“What was the designer’s reaction to 9/11? It was to make something, and I felt this overwhelming need to make something,” Thoma said. “The next day, we’re trying to work on a brief for a client, and I’m taking the brief out of my writing partner’s hands, and sketching on the back of it."
“I just want to make something that would give people the chance to express how they might feel about this,” he told his writing partner about the sketch.
The idea came about rather fast. “I was trying to do something very visual. One [idea] that came to mind was the heart in the middle of the state of Texas. I was trying to put Massachusetts and Texas layered over each other, with the heart being the same as Austin and Boston, in the same position. It could have worked, but it was a bit of a reach. It was taking something about Austin first and trying to make it Boston.”
“The other thing I couldn’t get out of my head was the fact that Austin and Boston have the same number of letters. The S,T and the N are in the same position. So I was trying to do this thing where I was stacking Austin on top of Boston and trying to add in language that would communicate them together.”
When a vigil run was announced for April 18, it sparked Thoma to reach out to other creatives. He sat down with Marc Ferrino, who heads the design department at GSD&M. Thoma presented Ferrino his design of Austin over Boston, without any connecting word in between. “What if you just put BO-AUSTIN," Ferrino suggested. The spark came when the slash was removed and the O was dropped. BAUSTIN.
“We both go, that’s it. There was no doubt that was the way to communicate that sense of oneness, that sense of solidarity that this happened to us, that we’re with you.” Still, the design felt overly-Austin. They decided to dip into Boston imagery and typography. Inevitably, they turned to the Boston Red Sox and their iconic lettering. The merging of the Austin-heavy wording with the Boston-centric typography was the right combination. “It was a way to focus on what was happening there, not on us,” Thoma said.
Enlisting local print shops Big Frog and Industry Print Shop, Thoma arrived at the vigil with freshly printed BAUSTIN shirts in tow. He reached out to his CreativeMornings crew to start social media awareness. Soon, the BAUSTIN effect took off. The UT Co-op contacted him to sell his shirts. Rogue Running, Mellow Johnny’s and Parts and Labor were soon stocking the shirts in store. Orders from Austin, Dallas and other Texas cities came in. His design had sparked something inside other people — a way for them to express their unity with the people of Boston.
So far, sales of BAUSTIN shirts have contributed over $10,000 to The One Fund. For Thoma, helping those affected by the tragedy has been important, but the emotional reaction to his work has been a residual, and equally rewarding, experience.
“The real personal benefit has been I’ve been able to create something people identity with, and when they wear it, they feel like that’s what they want to express," Thoma said. "It shows unity. It shows solidarity with the people of Boston."
The BAUSTIN shirt can be purchased online at baustinshirt.com. You can also pick up a shirt at the Red Sock Relays on Saturday, May 11 from 9 - 11a.m. and at Back On My Feet’s In24 Race on May 11 and 12.