OFFSET 2010: Day 1

The sun is shining in Dublin on this the first day of design festival OFFSET’s three days of scheduled talks and events taking place at the city’s brand new Grand Canal Theatre. First to take the stage: Adrian Shaughnessy and Tony Brook of Unit Editions…

The sun is shining in Dublin on this the first day of design festival Offset‘s three days of scheduled talks and events taking place at the city’s brand new Grand Canal Theatre. First to take the stage: Adrian Shaughnessy and Tony Brook…

Sadly my enthusiasm for sunshine is lacking today due to a terrible night’s sleep at my hotel  where, ironically, design disaster dictates that all the room doors slam shut – meaning whenever a guest arrives back to their room of an evening (which they did until about 4.30am last night) a door slams.

But, I’m up, and I’ve been at the wonky-looking Grand Canal Theatre since kick off at 10am…

First talk of the day was given by Adrian Shaughnessy and Tony Brook of Unit Editions and – by the looks of things – sleep deprivation isn’t an issue for anyone else: the auditorium was packed.

Shaughnessy started by talking about his experience working at Intro with Julian House on a number of great projects – from record sleeves for Primal Scream (“they talk about drugs like a wine connoisseur talks about wine – they really know their drugs”) and Stereolab and, perhaps more importantly, on various publications. He then talked about “becoming an editor” and learning to curate content whilst editor of VROOM magazine.

Brook then spoke about the philosophy for Unit Editions – about the pair’s desire to take the lessons they’ve learned about working with other publishers and create books “by designers, for designers”. He listed books that the pair identified as benchmarks for the kind of thing they wanted to publish. Books on the list included Typography Today by Helmut Schmid; the 8vo book, On The Outside, published by Lars Müller, and books by FUEL.

“I collect posters,” Brook told the assembled. “It’s a bit like alcoholics anonymous. I collect posters and I’ve got it bad.” The point he was making is that loving design is a really important aspect of what he and Shaughnessy are doing at Unit. Despite setting up a publishing company in the age of the internet, Shaughnessy insisted that “designers still have an engrained love of books, of the object” and, also insisted that most publishers just don’t think like designers, hence his and Brook’s desire to publish the kind of books they know their audience will appreciate and treasure.

They then went on to show that through creating a great website and letting design blogs know about what they’re up to – they can offer their books exclusively for sale through their own website and not bother with Amazon or other outlets.

They also told us about their Research papers – newsprint publications focusing on design projects they find fascinating. They showed spreads from Folkways – the first of these papers published by Unit Editions – which collected record sleeve designs created by Ronald Clyne, a designer and ethnic sculpture collector who created a huge number of sleeves for esoteric US label, Folkways, in the 60s and 70s. “All this stuff is online, but nowhere is it curated,” explained Shaugnessy, “so in a way we’re reclaiming this stuff from the internet.”

Spread from Folkways. Read our blog post about it from March this year (when it was published) here

The pair then gave the assembled a sneaky peek at their forthcoming Research paper, ThreeSix, which will look at the creation of a modular typeface by Hamish Muir – with an essay by Wim Crouwel. Plus a preview of their soon to launch revamped website, and a look at images from their forthcoming book, Supergraphics which will look at this kind of work:

…and which will feature an essay by CR’s very own Mark Sinclair. Watch this space:


I also sat in on this morning’s talk by Dublin-based studio Image Now‘s Aiden Grennelle – who gave an insightful overview of his journey as a designer, kicking off with his fascination and respect for designers like Josef Müller Brockman and Otl Aicher. He shared a great story about realising, whilst up an A-frame ladder painting the ceiling of his studio, that being several feet above the floor was the best place to be in the space – and consequently commissioning two umpires chairs for his studio from the manufacturers in England that provide the likes of Wimbledon with umpire chairs.

Grennelle candidly likened his early approach to design to UK band Spaceman 3’s motto, “taking drugs to make music to take drugs to”. He showed some of the colourful club flyers he was designing as a result – and then recalled the time he couldn’t prepare a poster for print for a client because he was recovering from a particularly heavy bout of raving. His friend, on request, duly sorted the file and sent it over, print-ready but, because he didn’t know the surname of the chap whose name was to appear on the poster, put in a surname so silly he felt sure that Grennelle would spot it on the file and change it before sending it to print. Grennelle was so hungover / broken that he didn’t spot what needed to be done and – relieved that his chum had sorted the poster – simply sent it off to print. This is how the poster ended up reading:

Cue much laughter. Grennelle then steered his talk towards talking about work completed since joining Image Now in 2000. Among the work he showed was some great work for Dublin Bus which included creating maps and timetables for the service

…and also for Eircom and for Dublin’s James Joyce Centre in Dublin – sharing stories about how each project developed.

Grennelle’s speech culminated in talking about a poster he created for Blanka’s Exhibition in Mono – which is both a homage to Josef Müller Brockman as well as a graphic representation of George Foreman and Mohammed Ali’s classic Rumble In The Jungle boxing fight in Zaire in 1974. I was slightly surprised that Grennelle mentioned my name at this point as the person who recommended that Blanka get him involved in the project. I own a copy of the poster and had completely forgotten that I had pointed Blanka in the direction of Image Now and Aiden. Totally made my day to “learn” of my role in the story of a poster I’ve loved since first seeing it.

The poster sees each of the fight’s eight 3 minute rounds (180 seconds) converted into overlapping semicircular (180 degrees) graphic slabs – enabling each degree of each 180 degree semicircle to represent a second of the particular round it signifies. Each connecting punch and all of the action is noted in the appropriate place, thus charting the whole fight, blow for blow.

I also sat in on Philip Hunt of Studio AKA (above) talking about the studio’s work. Hunt introduced the work of Studio AKA and explained how the 30 strong company balance commercial work with self-funded films – all in the name of developing the skills of its small but talented roster of animation directors. He showed work by Studio AKA directors Marc Craste, Steve Small and Grant Orchard, talking openly about dealing with clients, collaborating with clever creatives at ad agencies and the joy of producing great work. As well as the work that gets commissioned and included on the company’s reel, he also readily admits there’s a “drawer of shame” in which various projects are filed – he even showed a few projects from said drawer…


Towards the end of his allotted time, Hunt spoke of the processes involved in his adaptation of illustrator and author Oliver Jeffers’ Lost and Found story. The resulting film (still shown above) was first screened on Channel 4 in December 2008, but Hunt spoke of how he worked with Jeffers in adapting the design of the characters and the world they inhabit, and also how his own children’s behaviour influenced some of his directorial decisions. Here’s the trailer for the film which he played:

To find out more about Lost and Found, we blogged about it just before it was shown on TV back in December 2008. Read that post here.

Right, I’m going to pack up the laptop and head back to the venue to catch the talk by London’s POKE studio and also the following talk by Wired creative director Scott Dadich who I hope will talk about the development of the Wired iPad app and the magazine’s philosophy in regard to – to coin a phrase uttered by Adrian Shaughnessy earlier today – publishing in the digital age. More from Dublin soon!

Visit for more info about OFFSET 2010



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