by Beejay on October 2, 2008


For 15 years, Dave Parmley and Eric Ruffing have been holding things down in the Action Sports, Entertainment, and Gaming Industries, leading 13THFLOOR Design with a mix of youthful exuberance and a commitment to Keeping things Kustom—they spell it with a K.

“We don’t stress, it’s fun,” says Ruffing. “But we take what we do very seriously for ourselves and the client’s sake.”

Parmley was working as Design Director at surf giant O’Neill in the early ’90s when he hired Ruffing. The two bonded quickly.

“Eric and I have always worked really well together—no ego, best idea wins,” Parmley says. “We found this chemistry…and that’s a big reason we started 13THFLOOR together.”

13THFLOOR has emerged as a go-to resource among Action Sport companies, and both Ruffing and Parmley continue to mountain bike, bmx, and surf the breaks in Orange County, CA, staying in touch with their core audience.

Lately, they’ve been doing a lot of work for Mattel, Hot Wheels, Harley Davidson, X-Games, and Fox Sports. With each piece, they set out to create Kustom Letters.

“We must create our own type solutions,” Ruffing says. “No fonts.”

interview conducted via ICHAT
q and a

So you guys left O’Neill and decided to work for yourself. What factors led you to do that?

Eric: I left first, then Dave left about 6 months after me.
Dave: It was time to move on—we had done a LOT there and the surf industry life-cycled, O’Neill was having some problems and the creative opportunities weren’t as ripe as the previous years. As a friend of mine once said, “When it ain’t fun anymore, it’s time to leave.”

q and a

Why 13THFLOOR, the name?

Eric: It was a name we had come up with for a client (EA) who decided not to use it so we liked it and kept it. We also hate designers who use their own name. Not very creative and too egocentric for us.

Dave: We love the inane superstition of the No. 13. People think by naming it the 14th floor, it somehow is no longer the 13th floor. Don’t bungie jump by floor count!

How has your work progressed over the last 10 years, and why is Kustom so important to you guys?


Eric: I think the market allows for more freedom than it did 10 years ago. Also so much has been done already. We try to push ourselves while developing and maintaining what we think is our unique look.

Dave: We’ve always tried to be original in our lettering solutions. We love lettering and logo design. Depending on the needs of the client and the lettering style that works, we always try to be genuinely unique in whatever we do.

Eric: We still get hyped on all the great design that’s coming out and it influences us to push our work.

Typically, what’s your process with your lettering? Paper and pencil, all digital?


Dave: Paper! Paper! Paper! Learn to draw! That’s what puts the K in KUSTOM!

Eric: Whatever works, twigs on paper, tape, computer. I choose the tool that will get my idea out the best way and closest to what’s in my head.

Dave: It all ends up on the computer in the end! Start on the computer if that’s the look you want—we do when it’s right for the job. Lots of tools to create with!

What are your influences from a design and lettering standpoint?

Dave: Look around—it’s EVERYWHERE! Kind of amazing that it all looks the same now. That’s what we like about the skateboard market—it’s a lot more brand-related art that’s actually unique to the brand.

Eric: For me it’s anything emotional. For me personally it’s paintings (Motherwell, Kline), taggers and graffiti. Also huge influences from childhood: reading Hot Rod Mags, Ed Roth, Racing logos. The general humor that was popular in the branding of the 70’s motorsport era.

Dave: I’m a freak about anything that has f-l-o-w. I dig 60’s psychedelic rock poster lettering, and the 70’s fat style and all of the interpretations and evolutions of these in today’s lettering design. Tats, Flames Hot Rods.


You guys work with clients that allow a lot of custom work. What has the Mattel/Hot Wheels experience been like so far?

Eric: It’s been great. A dream come true. They first asked us to create a lifestyle story for their style guide, Urban, Action Sports, and Race-themed collections. After our first guide, they asked us to come in and be in charge of their Licensing division. I took the job. I was Senior Design Manager of Global Licensing. Basically responsible for all artwork of the licensing guides, about 200-300 pieces per guide, two times a year. 13THFLOOR stayed on as vendor. We had total creative control. It was really important to me (and Dave) that we addressed the trends but also made them unique and ownable to Hot Wheels.

Dave: Hot Wheels has been REALLY cool because we get to do a lot of what we love to do—cars and smoke and flames and Kustom. We have concentrated on maximizing the ability of our designs to become a family in their use for a wide range of applications that licensing requires. We’ll do a design that can be a composed graphic, break out into separate stand-alone designs, become simplified icons, and also create patterns out of these elements.

You guys have received a lot of requests for fonts, and you’ve hinted at them on your site. How soon till we see 13th Floor fonts?

Dave: We’ve got a lot of ideas—some further along than others. Production is our current bottleneck.

Eric: More ideas than time.

What’s next for you guys?

Eric: A surf or a ride if the waves suck!

Dave: I just recently moved down to So. Cal, so i see a lot of surf in my near future! We have some great new clients—Harley Davidson and Fox Sports and some BMX and bike companies that we can’t talk details about—but some killer stuff. And still good flow from Mattel and Hot Wheels.

For the longest time, you guys have worked separately. Are you still working in two separate offices?

Dave: Yup! We’re closer to each other now that I moved down here, but still just far enough away!

Eric: But not close enough to throw rocks at.

I see how it is. Finally guys, what are five things that people don’t know about you guys?

Eric: I’m a vegan (20+ years).

Dave: We’re not tatted up, don’t drink and don’t smoke. I eat anything with sugar or a bun.

Eric: Never done drugs.

Dave: Drugs suck. We’ve turned away a lot of alcohol and tobacco (companies) that used to hound us to do work.


13THFLOOR Design


{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }


Mark Cameron 10.05.08 at 11:19 am

Interesting article I had always wondered who was responsible for the Hot Wheels branding…now I know :)


Michael Carruth 10.23.08 at 10:57 am

13th Floor did the logo for our new site, BMXNOW.COM (coming next month), and we were over-the-moon happy with the end product, and working with Eric and Dave!

Can’t embed an image here but give it a look, we’re really proud of it.

Looking forward to more!



Jeff Finley 03.11.09 at 10:14 pm

That Harley logo is rad! So well done. 13th floor are good. Also, I fully support the drug/alcohol/tobacco free lifestyle!

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