OFFSET 2010: Carson, Dadich, Farrow and Wyman

OFFSET festival drew to a close in Dublin yesterday evening and I’m thoroughly exhausted. Despite the lack of sleep (bad hotel, not the partying) OFFSET remains one the of the best design conferences I’ve ever attended

Wired magazine’s Scott Dadich reveals the primary goals of setting out to create a digital version of the magazine

OFFSET festival drew to a close in Dublin yesterday evening and I’m thoroughly exhausted. While I’d love to say I was hitting its myriad satellite events hard, sadly my hotel wasn’t conducive to sleep so I was too knackered to party. Despite that, OFFSET was one the of the best design conferences I’ve ever attended…

And I should point out that it is more than just a brilliantly scheduled conference. OFFSET is a visual arts festival that could (and perhaps should) be considered as Dublin’s premier annual design festival.

Exhibitions, related club nights, discussions and debates focussed on illustration, street art, short film, design, photography, publishing and artistic collaborations have been taking place all week. Way too much, in fact, for a sleep deprived visitor to the city to take in the three days during the conference – although I did check out Daniel Eatock’s show last Thursday night at the Monster Truck Gallery shortly after arriving in Dublin.

Burnt rubber circle created by a motorcyclist to open Daniel Eatock’s show at Dublin’s Monster Truck Gallery last week. Photo by David Wall of Conor & David

The exhibition saw the gallery turn into a studio for a week as Eatock encouraged volunteering participants to create as near perfect a freehand circle as possible, plus other collaborative artworks under his direction. On the opening night of the show on September 24, there was nothing in the space – but a motorcyclist revved up a high performance machine to burn a rubber circle directly onto the gallery’s concrete floor: a spectacular opening to a participatory and fun week long art event. Watch a film of the motorcycle circle being created here.

Other events included the Illustrators Guild of Ireland‘s presentation of 70 of the country’s top illustrators, designers and photographers in the South Studios space on New Row South; an exhibition of street art at Anewspace Gallery on Chatham Street; DJ Shadow (no less) playing live at Tripod on Harcourt Street; and the Irish leg of the 12th Annual Manhattan Short Festival – to name just a few.

I should also mention that at the conference there were two rooms running events simultaneously. While talks were delivered in the main auditorium of the theatre, upstairs in “Room Two” a series of discussions and debates had been scheduled. Topics such as routes into illustration/graphic design, the benefits of internships, and getting your childrens book published were explored, and delegates were also offered the chance to ask questions – in dedicated hour-long sessions – to some of the conference’s illustrious speakers, such as graphic design legends Lance Wyman and David Carson.

On Saturday evening I sat in on the Future of Publishing group discussion in Room Two, fronted by a panel comprising Unit Editions’ Adrian Shaughnessy, Stephen Heller (author and former art director of The New York Times), Scott Dadich of Wired magazine (as well as being the creative director at Wired, Dadich is in charge of digital magazine development for Condé Nast), and Hugh Linehan, online editor at The Irish Times.

When Stephen Heller suggested, in his role as devil’s advocate, that the death of print publication was inevitable, Linehan said he doubted that was true and that, actually, almost all forms of communication ever invented, bar the telegram, are still going strong: cinema, painting, magazines, newspapers. All of this stuff still exists and thrives despite the arrival of new technologies and media over the years.

Printed matter may decrease in terms of the sheer amount of newspapers and magazines that are sold, but people will still want the physical things, Linehan added. He then memorably likened the will-printed-publications-disappear situation to the part in Spinal Tap where the band’s manager defends decreasing sales of the band’s albums by saying: “Er, I just think their appeal is becoming more selective…”.

I’d made sure I got to Dadich’s talk on Friday evening (shortly after completing my first post from OFFSET), hoping he’d talk about the development of the Wired iPad app, and he didn’t disappoint.

He explained how he’d been thinking about digital magazines for years and also how he’s been talking to the bods at Adobe for several years about introducing functions within InDesign CS5 that will enable editorial designers to also design and develop iPad versions alongside their print publications.

As well as showing Wired’s approach to structure, and thus the architecture of the magazine’s iPad edition (the slide above shows the basic architecture of the Wired Reader), he talked about various interactions that his team have developed and embedded within the iPad editions of Wired magazine – most notably an interactive feature where users can explore the surface of Mars.

He then showed the difference between how the New Yorker iPad app is different to the Wired Reader because the content demands to be updated more – so it makes more sense to have a much more html-led content management system, rather than an InDesign reliant one.

Each title entering the world of digital editions, either on the iPad or other tablet style gadgets must, he suggested, understand their audience, their content and, of course, the very nature of the interactions possible via said gadget. His goals when working on the Wired Reader (see this post’s topmost image) can be applied by most titles in terms of basic approach.

There were more great talks on Saturday, all of which ran like clockwork until David Carson’s talk, scheduled for 3pm.

At 2.55pm, three of the festival’s organisers were in the foyer of the theatre looking worried. No sign of Carson. But then, hang on – here he is with only a minute to spare. And so relax… I took my seat in the auditorium and waited. And waited a bit more. Carson finally took to the stage fifteen minutes late. Not too bad considering he’s been known to not turn up at all to scheduled talks. The auditorium was packed: apparently there were about 1,200 people in attendance. Carson began by struggling to find his opening slide on his messy-looking laptop desktop…

After making a bit of a show of not really being able to navigate through the myriad images he’d brought along for his talk, Carson did manage to show lots of images.

Predominantly he shared dozens of photographs he’d taken of things that make him tick, things that inspire him day-to-day. Amusing street signage, beautiful rubbish bins in Zurich, a shadow cast by typography on glass, surfboards, and the occasional image of a young woman’s breast kept the audience amused and entertained.

As well as these photographs of things that inspire him, Carson also showed various projects he’d worked on explaining his approach to each particualr piece.

Although his talk lacked any kind of formal structure, the gist of it can be compressed to just a few sentences: “Put some of yourself into the work,” he said. “Nobody can pull from your experience so use it in your work – it will be unique and you’ll have a lot more fun with it.”

Regardless of the fact that Carson then proceeded to run over his allotted time (despite promising to wrap up several times when prompted to do so, thus totally screwing with the well-honed timetable for the rest of the day’s events) – one thing was clear. Carson was putting something of himself over in his talk – and he was clearly having fun with it.

Next up, Mark Farrow took the stage with Adrian Shaughnessy in comfy looking chairs to look through various pieces of work by Farrow’s studio Farrow Design. The interview format worked really well, with Shaughnessy digging for extra insight on working processes without giving the feeling that Farrow was being put on the spot.


Pharmaceutical style packaging for Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space album


One of several images created for Manic Street Preachers’ Lifeblood album and campaign, art directed by Farrow, shot by John Ross. “To be honest, I consider this image as much my work as I do it John’s,” says Mark Farrow. “I know John feels the same way.”

“I put this in [the slideshow] because, well, I’ve worked with Kylie.” Mark Farrow

As well as talking about projects such as the identity and packaging for Peyton and Byrne, work for Levi’s, artwork and packaging for bands Manic Street Preachers and also Spiritualized, perhaps inevitably it was work done for the Pet Shop Boys that was discussed in most detail, with Farrow talking about the work on the Yes album and the subsequent Pandemonium tour as a special case study.

While Farrow spoke of the collaborative relationship he has with the Pet Shop Boys, Shaughnessy asked about the relationship with the record label who, Farrow told us, don’t get involed, they just “take delivery of the artwork.”

Farrow revealed that inspiration for the Yes artwork came from the band, who had seen a work by Gerhard Richter (shown above, 4900 Colours: Version II, 2007, Enamel paint on Aludibond, 49 Panels, each 97 × 97 cm, La Collection de la Fondation Louis Vuitton pour la création, © 2008 Gerhard Richter) that, for them, perfectly expressed the notion of “pop”.

(Actually, we posted about Farrow’s work on the sleeve in March last year. Read that post here. Read about the special edition vinyl edition in our blogpost about it here.)

Shaughnessy asked Farrow at this point about whether he thought that he had copied in any way the Richter artwork. “Where we ended up is far away enough from what was a reference point for us,” Farrow explained. “Gerhard Richter doesn’t own coloured squares.” Shaughnessy then pointed out that Farrow’s ideas get ripped off a lot. “That’s completely fucking different,” came Farrow’s instant and laugh-inducing reply. “There’s nothing wrong with being influenced by something,” Farrow continued. “Where we ended up is so far divorced from that image, I really don’t think it’s a problem.”

Perhaps the most telling revelation about the work on PSB’s Yes artwork – and of Farrow’s relationship with the band – was that there were originally 12 tracks on the album, with one square of the tick on the cover representing a track on the album. “But the tick looked much better if it was just comprised of 11 diamonds,” said Farrow.

The band duly dropped a track to make the album artwork work better. Er, wow.

Lance Wyman’s first ever poster, created at high school

OK – I realise this is a long post – but I just wanted to share one last highlight of OFFSET 2010: graphic design legend Lance Wyman talking yesterday morning.

Wyman condensed his life story into just an hour, starting with his childhood in Kearny, New Jersey, the tales his grandfather told about his contemporaries such as Billy The Kid, through to his studying of industrial design (the term graphic design hadn’t been coined at that stage) at the Pratt school in Brooklyn, and his early days designing for General Motors.

His wayfinding work for the Chrysler Pavilion at the New York world fair in 1964/5 was charming and hinted at the kind of universally readable icon-based work that he would later become famous for / prolific at.


Of course, he spoke of his experience working on the 1968 Mexico Olympics logotype and identity and how, because Mexico didn’t have much money to spend on architecture (Tokyo had spent a fortune on new stadiums and other buildings for the 1964 Olympics) the Mexican Games “became the graphics Olympics.” With graphics being applied to all sorts of things, both on a huge architectural scale, right down to clothing and hats….

Lance Wyman’s original compass drawing showing how the numeral 68, the year of the Mexico Olympics which he designed the identity for, could actually work, graphically, with the five rings Olympics logo

As well as talking of how the icons and other graphical elements of the Mexico 68 work were influenced by Mexican culture, both ancient and modern, Wyman also showed how his graphic work was referenced in work, such as the one above, during the student uprisings of 1968. They found that Wyman had created a graphic language that they could use and recycle to express their feelings visually.

Wyman showed more great work that he created in Mexico over subsequent years, such as the Mexico City Metro logo, typeface and icons created for the Metro’s opening in 1969, and the logo and mascot (shown above) designed for the 1970 soccer World Cup held in Mexico. He also told how he loved seeing the mascot hand painted (not always correctly – see image below) around Mexico city.

Wyman spoke of his return to New York and of setting up a studio with Bill Cannan – Wyman & Cannan. He showed a selection of the studio’s brilliant logo and icons for the National Zoological Park in Washington DC, created as part of a comprehensive branding and wayfinding system…

… and his later studio’s work for Minnesota’s Zoo exhibit areas:

To see Wyman present his work was a real treat and a really good moment for me to bow out of Dublin’s Grand Canal Theatre and head towards the airport to return home.

If it wasn’t press week here at CR towers this week, perhaps I could have stayed for the rest of yesterday’s talks… I was particularly sad to be missing the Wooster Collective talk, and also animator David O’Reilly’s talk too. I bumped into O’Reilly on the Sunday and he’s a different character since I last interviewed him back in 2007 when we named him as a Creative Future and commissioned him to create a new piece of work, Please Say Something. He’s promised to show me new work soon and keep in touch.

So that was my OFFSET experience which, apart from the insomnia, was a thoroughly positive and enjoyable one. My hat is doffed in the direction of organisers Richard Seabrook and team who, to their credit, have entirely self-funded the whole event and who have yet to work out whether this year’s event has even broke even.

Ireland’s economy is just as screwed as ours here in the UK – if not more so, with unemployment rising at a similar frightening rate to property reposessions. Encouraging its own design community to be inspired and to work harder, as well as giving designers and creatives from around the world a very good reason to visit Dublin, OFFSET is a huge asset to Ireland as well as to the international design community at large. I really hope we get to again next year.

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