Offset 2014: Day one

Creative conference Offset kicked off in Dublin this morning, with talks and debates on book cover design, animation, illustration, graphics and advertising. Here are a few of the highlights…

Creative conference Offset kicked off in Dublin this morning, with talks and debates on book cover design, animation, illustration, graphics and advertising. Here are a few of the highlights…

Sarah Mazzetti

Italian illustrator Sarah Mazzetti gave the first talk of the day, providing a look at her commercial work, self initiated projects and her creative process. She discussed making posters for music events at the Locomotiv Club in Bologna:

Creating a website, programme and installations for Welsh music and arts festival Green Man (top and below), which she was asked to do after her Locomotiv posters were featured on various design blogs:

And creating editorial illustrations for the New York Times, financial publications and publishing house Feltrinell, as well as Italian magazine Studio.

Mazzetti also runs Teiera, an independent publishing label producing comics and illustrated zines – including work by UK illustrator Ed Cheverton (featured in CR’s February issue).

Golden Wolf

Next up was Ingi Erlingsson, co-founder of London animation studio Golden Wolf. The studio was founded as an animation offshoot of design studio I Love Dust, but recently rebranded as a separate company.

As a teen he wanted to be a graffiti artist but Erlingsson decided to pursue illustration after his street art led to run-ins with police, he said. Before joining I Love Dust and Golden Wolf, he completed a spell at NY company Surround, where he worked on the music video for The Killers’ Mr Brightside.


Showing examples of the studio’s work for MTV, Cartoon Network and Nike Erlingsson presented the 10 ‘golden rules’ of Golden Wolf, including:

-Surprise people: If you do something unexpected or take people out of their comfort zone, will always get a better reaction. “Its all about mystery and intrigue,” he said.

-Don’t be an a**hole: “We’re a small company and love what we do,” he explained. “We don’t want egos to come into the equation.”

-Always over deliver: “If you do your best and excel clients’ expectations, they’ll come back.”

-Respect the almighty client: “When I was starting out, client felt like a necessary evil, someone trying to destroy ideas. But they are your most important collaborator, the people who can make or break a project and they do help,” he said.

-Invest in progress: if a client comes to you with an idea, you’ll probably want to go crazy, but will have to meet them somewhere in the middle. It’s a sweet spot for the client but doesn’t necessarily lead to progression for the studio, said Erlingsson – which is why Golden Wolf often runs self-initiated or self-funded experimental projects, which lead to more ambitious projects such as this black and white Kubrick-inspired animation featuring a cast of astronaut dogs for record label OWSLA:


Marina Willer

Pentagram partner Marina Willer’s talk began with a discussion of things that inspire her – including her upbringing in colourful and chaotic Brazil, living in London, and her twin sons’ curiosity about the world.

She spoke about her work for the Serpentine Gallery, which was recently shortlisted for the Design Museum’s Design of the Year award, as well as pitching for a Louis Vuitton project and rebranding UK charity Action for Children.

As well as a flexible typographic logo for the charity that can be arranged in various ways, Pentagram has designed a visual language based around the statement, ‘we can’t wait’. Print ads feature a series of phrases such as ”we can’t wait to grow up’ and ‘we can’t wait for your help’, communicating a sense of urgency but also children’s optimism about the future.

The project has not yet been implemented but has been approved by the company, and Willer says the aim was to create something that is “not depressing, but is serious.”

Willer ended with a look at a series of short films promoting architect Richard Rogers’ exhibition at the Royal Academy, exploring objects and ideas that inspire him:

Book cover design

At lunchtime, as well as a talk from Mike Perry, there was a discussion between Conor Nolan & David Wall, Max Phillips, Niall Mccormack & James Kelleher about book cover design in Ireland.

The country no longer has a book cover design awards scheme, and the recent recession has led to a decline in the number of books being printed, but there are still beautiful covers made here, said David Wall, whose studio recently designed a beautiful cover for Oliver Jeffers, which you can see more pictures of on their website:

There were some interesting discussions around the future of book design, in particular, how it will be affected by the growth in kindles and e readers, but Wall had an optimistic take on this.

While there may not be a need to print some kinds of book – such as more ‘throwaway’ mass market fiction titles –  it may mean that books which do go in to print are more rewarding to work on: there will have to be real reason to print them, which presents amazing opportunities for designers who will be given a mandate to do something interesting, he said.

When asked about who wants to become a book designer these days, speakers agreed that there was still a huge interest in it among students and design professionals, and Wall said anyone could become one if their work was good enough.

“If you do good design people will come to you – if someone has taken initiative to set up a website and do beautiful book covers – if they’re 16 or 40/50, people will take notice,” he said.


After lunch, Paul McBride and Brian Nolan of Dublin studio Detail discussed the studio’s branding work for corporate and cultural clients, including an identity, campaigns and exhibition graphics for the Science Gallery:

And a visual identity and mapping system for Georgian garden Merrion Square, inspired by architecture of the period and a map from 1780:

As well as signage, wayfinding and iconography for Father Collins Park, a sustainable park with sports facilities, playgrounds and wind turbines.

Detail is also curating an archive of Irish design along with Conor & David, AAD and several other Irish studios. The archive will be a celebration of the country’s visual culture, they said.

Serge Seidlitz

Serge Seidlitz followed in place of Mark Bernath and Eric Quennoy of Wieden + Kennedy Amsterdam, who were unable to attend.

Seidlitz talked about his solo exhibition at London’s Coningsby Gallery, illustrating a book on mental health by Ruby Wax and a project for Coca-Cola, which he described as ‘a nightmare’. He spent over a month designing around 3000 illustrations for the brand’s Share a Coke campaign, only to find out it was scrapped six months later.


He also presented posters and DVD packaging for F*ck for Forests – a documentary about a group in Berlin that sells erotic films to raise money for the rainforest:

And packaging for a soon to be launched range of ice creams from American brand Homer Hudson. Flavours include Death Row (chocolate and vanilla), Mo Dough and Prom Queen Dream, and Seidlitz has created some typically witty, colourful illustrations to match.

Fun is the guiding principle in his work, he said, and Seidlitz showed various early sketches of projects as well as the finished result, showing the craft, time and improvisation that goes into each.

Jessica Walsh

Jessica Walsh received a huge round of applause for her talk, which focused on the idea of play.

“I see my work as play rather than a job – and the more fun and play in my work, the better people respond,” she said, explaining how play is educational and helps drive innovation.

After teaching herself to code as a teen, Walsh studied at Rhode Island School of Design, where workshops included painting, sculpture and woodwork as well as digital design.

When working as an art director at Print magazine following an internship at Pentagram, Walsh had a strict budget and often had to create and shoot sets herself.

Both experiences have heavily influenced her work at Sagmeister & Walsh, she said, and she continues to experiment with tactile processes and raw materials. “Sometimes, you just need to get off the computer and make shit,” she said.

Walsh also discussed the need for play to have rules, however, and said that often, the best work thrives on creative constraints. If clients give her an open brief, she will devise a strict set of rules such as using a simple set of shapes or a monochrome colour scheme (see work for middle eastern brand Aizone, above. It took around 12 hours to paint models in each picture in the series).

Discussing the work that goes into persuading clients to back her ideas, Walsh said the key is to only present one concept – but make it great.

She also discussed the importance of fighting for an idea you believe in, taking risks and pursuing personal projects: her relationship experiment, 40 Days of Dating (in which she dated a friend for forty days, blogging about the experience, attracted millions of followers, and Warner Bros has since bought the film rights to the story).

Mark Waites

Mother co-founder Mark Waites provided the final talk of the day, and also spoke about creative constraints, arguing that the best projects embrace restrictions.

Waites presented several examples of successful projects created by Mother despite challenging briefs – such as its ambient campaign for documentary London Ink. With a budget of just £150,000, the agency created a series of massive tattooed sculptures around London.

They looked impressive (and certainly made an impact), but figures were made as cheaply as possible, said Waites: they weren’t given eyes because it would be too expensive, and one was made to look partially submerged in the ground to avoid the cost of building a whole body. “The trick with doing things cheaply is not to let your audience know…you don’t have to lessen the quality of the execution,” he said.

He also discussed how failed pitches can lead to greater success – such as when Mother lost a Eurostar account to Fallon, but managed to persuade the company to invest in a film directed by Shane Meadows instead (read our blog post on it here). “If we’d have won that gig, the film would never have happened. Sometimes, no is the answer you need,” he said.

Waites said he was terrible at ‘blue sky thinking’, and finished by saying, “if you ask us to do anything, we’ll do nothing. The more problems we have, the more creative we become.”

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