Dublin’s inspirational OFFSET festival 2012

Summarising a design conference as rich as last weekend’s OFFSET in Dublin in a single blog post is something of a tall order. Speakers included Stefan Sagmeister, Seymour Chwast, Von, and Friends With You – and that was just day one…

Delegates enjoy a talk in the main auditorium at OFFSET 2012. Image: Ollie Smith

Summarising a design conference as rich as last weekend’s OFFSET in Dublin in a single blog post is something of a tall order. Speakers included Stefan Sagmeister, Seymour Chwast, Von, and Friends With You – and that was just day one…

Photographer Myles Shelley’s shot of delegates queing up outside the Bord Gais Energy Theatre to register on day one of OFFSET 2012

I’ve got no idea whether this, the third OFFSET event was a financial success for its organisers, three young Dubliners Bren Byrne, Peter O’Dwyer and Richard Seabrooke, who impressively manage to pull together what is fast proving to be a world-class design conference whilst still working full time in their respective day jobs.

However, the knowledge that their combined enthusiasm for communication design has essentially transformed them into conference hobbyists capable of drawing the most talented and erudite image makers and designers from around the world to speak at their event somehow makes OFFSET even more special than the list of internationally renowned speakers on the schedule suggests alone.

As is to be expected at such events, some speakers are more comfortable on stage than others, with some more naturally inclined to candidly reveal their journey from humble beginnings to star creative than perhaps others. I suppose it stands to reason that the speakers who work in a team or in a busy studio are probably naturally more adept at articulating their thought processes than those that work alone. That said, some of the most revealing talks were delivered by lone practitioners.

Illustrator Von on the main stage, shot by Gary Boylan

In each of their respective talks illustrators Von (above, showing some recent work), Steve Simpson, painter Conor Harrington, and poster specialist Olly Moss each revealed to the audience their earliest influences and shared their creative journey – showing that their styles and approach to their work has developed over time to become more accomplished and confident.

Whilst Harrington (above, shot by Gary Boylan) and Moss both charmingly admitted their early work was pretty crap, they both demonstrated that early failure, compounded by a desire to succeed, provided the stimulus to work harder and to get better.

Above: one of Conor Harrington’s paintings from his sold out Dead Meat show currently running at the Lazarides gallery in London

A few chips on shoulders were also tellingly revealed: in 2006 Von “got sacked by a rubbish graphic design studio”, Harrington had a college tutor who told him point blank that she would never go to one of his shows, and Simpson’s well-known cartoonist uncle, the late John Keith Geering, once said of him that he had no talent and would never amount to much. Were these put downs vital to their eventual success? Did these incidents install a steadfast determination to succeed?

“If you’re going to create a character that’s going to get shot at all day by Nazis, why give him a great big target to hold?” Olly Moss, questioning the character design of Captain America at OFFSET 2012. Above is a poster he created to promote the recent Captain America film.

More main room highlights came in the form of engaging and erudite talks from Pentagram‘s Michael Bierut and also Stefan Sagmeister. Both speakers chose to share knowledge and learnings with the assembled crowd, suggesting ways of thinking about the world, design briefs and also approaches to happiness that couldn’t be demonstrated simply by showing completed design projects alone.

The Happy Film Titles from {group theory} on Vimeo.

Sagmeister showed a trailer from his forthcoming film The Happy Film (directed by Hillman Curtis, opening titles shown above) which included footage of the designer struggling to successfully ask girls for their numbers on the streets of New York. Really looking forward to the film’s release later this year – more info about the project can be found at thehappyfilm.org

Some speakers demonstrated a raw and inspirational need to be creative – a hunger that has led them to be productive beyond their day jobs. Letterer, illustrator, type nerd, “crazy cat lady” and typographer Jessica Hische described her just-for-the-fun-of-it work as “procrastiworking” showing a slew of websites she’d built, each the result of a particular creative whim. Check out those projects at jessicahische.is/aprocrastiworker

Pentagram partner Paula Scher also spoke of her desire to create beyond client briefs, telling the audience she wanted “to create things that are luscious and complicated,” before showcasing her self-initiated, large scale colourful and intensely rich map paintings. “I do a lot of design work for free too,” she added, “just to do something new.” Above is her politically charged map of Florida, the key state in the elections that saw George W Bush beat Al Gore to become US president in the year 2000.

As well as the main auditorium action which comprised eight hour-long talks each day, a second room in the venue (Dublin’s Grand Canal Theatre – now renamed due to sponsorship to the Bord Gais Energy Theatre) offered more intimate discussions, panels and interviews. There were sessions that looked at routes into design and also into advertising; a panel discussion about children’s book illustration, another on the future of advertising, and yet another on the subject of staying creative.

There were also interviews with Seymour Chwast, Stefan Sagmeister and Shepard Fairey to check out – if you could bear to miss any of the main room lectures. Above image (by Myles Shelley) is of Pentagram’s Paula Scher and Michael Bierut during their Room 2 interview session.

Yet more highlights were delivered via theatrics. Artist duo Sam and Tury from Friends With You kicked off their talk with a special performance by their character Malfi who danced around to a delighted crowd. Apparently Malfi was in fact a volunteer chosen via Twitter from the OFFSET crowd to don the inflatable outfit. Later in their presentation, to demonstrate their desire to make people happy, Sam and Tury got the entire auditorium on its feet to shake hands and hug people around them they didn’t know. Then they got everyone dancing, which was (to use FWY’s favourite expression) awesome.

The very final lecture of the conference wasn’t so much a talk as a carefully choreographed series of readings and performances, orchestrated by London-based creatives Niall Sweeney and Nigel Truswell from Pony (above), plus a host of friends that performed with them. Who could have guessed that OFFSET ticket holders would see a drag queen perform with a ping pong ball, or that the conference would close to a man singing acapella wearing an albatross costume?

Shepard Fairey on the main stage, shot by Peter O’Dwyer

OFFSET maybe a relatively young contender in the world of international design conferences, but it exudes a hugely positive energy. If three young men in Dublin can create and run an event on this scale and with this ambition in their spare time – well the rest of us have no excuses at all for not being inspired to go forth and create something amazing ourselves.

I realise that I haven’t mentioned a slew of other brilliant creatives that spoke at this year’s event such as Shepard Fairey (above), Johnny Kelly or Erik Kessels, Eike König of HORT, United Visual Artists, Kyle Cooper or Rinzen – but hopefully you get the picture: if you miss OFFSET next year, well, you’ll be missing out.


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