Post your awkward photos and meet the MTV Awkward Design Challenge winner Ronan Lynam!

Congrats to Ronan Lynam aka Ronami for his design The Awkward Years. It won grand prize in the MTV Awkward design challenge. Learn a little more about Ronan below and then post a photo of you in your “awkward years” in the comments!


Congrats on your win! Tell us a little about yourself.

Thanks! I'm born and raised in Michigan with a strong Irish ancestry. I have a BFA from the University of Michigan and currently reside in Ann Arbor, MI. I work at a lovely local apparel printing shop, the Ann Arbor T-Shirt Company, and hope to start a career of freelance illustration and design work.

Do you have any process photos from your design you could share?

Totally! I always love seeing progress pictures. This particular design was fairly straightforward. I work exclusively in Photoshop (can't stand vectors), and do all my sketching right into the computer. Here's a few screenshots of the beginning, middle and end:

What inspired you to use a shark in your design?

A couple things inspired the idea of a shark wearing headgear, but it all began with simply reading the challenge description. The given examples of awkward things include some jib-jab about braces. Now, I had braces for about three years and I had it all - rubber bands, headgear, even metal springs preventing me from shifting my jaw horizontally. It was horrible. Sometimes I would go into the orthodontist and they would wedge a circular serrated saw blade in between my teeth and sand down the insides of a tooth to make more room. But the headgear was what I would consider the most embarrassing part. Thankfully I only had to wear it at night, but even then I couldn't look in a mirror without making fun of myself. I looked like a goony.

So I had the headgear down, but that alone is not enough for a good design. I usually try my hardest to push an idea to it's humorous and (il)logical conclusion as best I can, so I tried to think of things that would need headgear. The first thing that popped into my head was something with lots of teeth, like an alligator or shark. When I thought of a shark, I thought of how Jaws is such a big scary symbol of fear and death. But back in the day, I bet Jaws was just as awkward as anybody. I bet he stayed inside all day and played games in fear of his other shark friends making fun of his big dumb mug. It's a tragic story, really, that maybe Jaws was so mean because the world was so cruel to him. Who knows.

You've been printed twice but this is your first challenge win. How does it feel?

Really, really, really good. Every time I see a "Congratulations!" email, my world stops for a moment. This was great timing too, as I just graduated from art school and am now stuck in the real world, which sucks. The extra goodies from MTV just fueled my excitement. It gave me the motivation to keep doing what I love.

Did you have "awkward years"? Tell us about 'em.
I am a firm believer that everyone had the "awkward years". You're a liar if you say you didn't. Mine hit me hard and while brief, my awkward years were a significant part of my personal history.

I got crackhead addicted to World of Warcraft in 8th grade. I would wake up at 9am and play it all day if I could. I can't say it was horrible, because I enjoyed it so much, but I think the problem was that I enjoyed it a little TOO much. Imagine this - it's the middle of a beautiful July in Michigan and you walk down the basement stairs to find my smelly troll cave. You would see a scrawny, pale as hell Ronan with long greasy hair, surrounded by a ritualistic circle of empty ham & cheese hot pockets and root beer bottles. I would probably snarl at you, telling you to piss off so I can get back to my dungeon. The searing sun of the summer burned my pasty skin, so I stayed secluded in my troll cave all summer long. Thankfully my wonderful parents cut off my subscription and I was eventually able to move on with my life.

This happened almost a decade ago, from around the end of December 2004 until the end of summer 2005. That was without a doubt the single most awkward period in my life. Here are some snapshots from that era:

Trying to smile. I sported the typical teenage shaggy wings for several years.

Trying to look cool. Looking like a damn fool instead.

Wearing a ninja suit in French class, demonstrating my mastery of the art of chair leaning.

Did you see other submissions in this challenge you liked? Which ones?
Yes! A few of my favorites were:


Sock Ness Awkward Monster by oliviero

You have submitted a bunch. What advice would you give to designers about getting lots of work done?

I've been submitting to Threadless since about 2010. I was attracted to the e-fame of the Threadless greats, like Enkel, Glennz, Aled, alexmdc as well as having an outlet for practicing graphic illustration. Like 99% of submitters, my first submission was trash. My first thought was, "Threadless likes word play! I can do that!" I went on to conceive one of the lamest play on words ever submitted - "Fore-Arms".

Hilarious, right? I bombed my first 20 or so submissions, and eventually got my first print. That gave me the confidence to keep working and improving, eventually scoring my second and third print. Since "Fore-arms", I feel like I had learned a lot about drawing shirts not only for Threadless, but also for creating good design in other areas as well.

My #1 piece of advice would be to be your own best/worst critic. Learn how to step outside your own shoes and evaluate all the work you've done. What is the purpose of your design? Are people going to 'get it' by themselves? If you take away the title/description of your design, does it still make sense and does the idea still read well? Is the design appropriate for the canvas of apparel? Is there anything else I can add to push the idea further/add to the story? Would someone want to buy and wear your design? Would you wear your own shirt? These are all examples of problems that I think need to be addressed in order to create a successful a design. The only hard part is pulling it all off at once!

Another thing I've noticed with submitting a lot is that you’re left with loads of unpublished work! For the three prints I had, I've also poured hundreds, maybe thousands of hours into countless failures. Where do they go - into the bowels of your hard drive collecting dust for eternity? But why? You've put a lot of hard work into each one, and it'd be a waste to let it just sit there. I would recommend to designers to take their unpublished designs and do something with them. Reworking and submitting designs is a great way to give new life to submissions that needed a little extra 'umph'. Threadless is nice, but there's nothing stopping you from sharing and selling them yourselves! Someone out there will love your work and it never hurts to try, as sharing your work is just as important as making it. Hope this helps!


Congrats to Ronan! Pick up his tee here and if you’ve got pictures of your awkward years, post ‘em below!

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TheInfamousBaka profile pic Alumni

Congrats! Great pick for the winner. :-)

jeffreyg profile pic Alumni

Awesome! :D Great interview ~ Congrats Ronan!

Zai Alam

Well deserved winning tee design. Congrats!

soloyo profile pic Alumni



congrats, ronan!!!


Such a great illustration! Great work, Ronan.


congrats guy keep it up.


yeah congratulations.


congo yes!

campkatie profile pic Alumni

ha great pics! congrats on the win and sweet prizes!


Well done! Great job.


Nice, i like it, grats


congratz :-D


I thought I was really cool back in middle school. No, this wasn't taken before/after a funeral. This is just how I used to dress:

Sometimes I wish I could kick my own ass.

dhendy profile pic Staff

stay away from my daughter, Kyle.

nathan-hinshaw profile pic Staff

Question: Kyle, did you always carry a rose with you too? Because that really rounds this whole look out.

wearecareful profile pic Staff

Every year is an awkward year for me but this is one from 1999

cshimala profile pic Staff

First day at Purdue - Fall of 1998

nathan-hinshaw said:

Question: Kyle, did you always carry a rose with you too? Because that really rounds this whole look out.

Nah, I had to make do with the roses because they were all out of white lilies at the funeral parlor.

I was a morbid little dude.

cshimala profile pic Staff

This isn't just for ThreadStaff! Where are everyone's photos?!?!?


these are great! i don't have any awkward photos...


Is that awkward enough for you guys?^

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