Offset 2015 day three: Sue Murphy, Matt Willey, Matthew Thompson & more

The final day of Dublin’s OFFSET conference featured talks from Why Not Associates’ Andy Altmann, art director Sue Murphy, photographer Matthew Thompson, illustrator Andrew Rae, Pentagram partner Emily Oberman and designer Matt Willey.

The final day of Dublin’s OFFSET conference featured talks from Why Not Associates’ Andy Altmann, art director Sue Murphy, photographer Matthew Thompson, illustrator Andrew Rae, Pentagram partner Emily Oberman and designer Matt Willey.

Sue Murphy, an art director and designer at Wolff Olins and former art director at Ogilvy & Mather, spoke about creating digital experiences and online content for IBM and why she left design studio Edenspiekermann to work in advertising.

As an art director at Ogilvy & Mather, Murphy worked exclusively for IBM, creating a Tumblr site to showcase the company’s products and patents and working on its Open Sessions project for the US Open (a collaboration with musician James Murphy, the project used IBM data gathered from matches to generate music, producing an original song for each match. (Sue) Murphy worked on a website and exhibition for the project and commissioned illustrations for 250 tracks).

Murphy said her fascination with design began when she was given an IBM computer as a child and access to the internet aged 11 – “I would make lots of glittery websites. I didn’t know you could copy and paste so I’d copy out html tables by hand,” she said. After graduating with a degree in visual communications from Dublin’s IADT in 2009, she went on to study for a Master’s in advertising and worked as a designer at Edenspiekermann in Amsterdam, but says she suffered from ‘burnout’ after a year. “I had put too much pressure on myself…I got to the stage where I wasn’t enjoying designing, and that scared me,” she said.

After coming across a quote by David Ogilvy on the company’s approach to teaching young people in advertising, Murphy contacted the agency’s recruitment team and after a Skype call, was offered a job in its New York office.

As well as creating the US Open project and IBM’s tumblr, IBMblr (for which she was required to produce a new GIF or animation for each new patent or piece of news the company produced), Murphy worked on campaigns for IBM’s fellowship and Women in Tech. She also began to collect designs from IBM’s and Ogilvy’s archives, and set up a blog, Good Design is Good Business, to publish the designs she found online .

Now working as a senior designer and art director at Wolff Olins, Murphy said she was enjoying working for multiple clients with no fixed job description – and reminded her audience to “find out what you like to do and find a way to incorporate that into your day job.” While she has a background in advertising, she said she disliked traditional paid for media such as banners, preferring to create new kinds of online content instead. It was an honest reflection on her career so far, with an impressive portfolio of work in just a few years after graduating.

Matt Willey

Graphic designer Matt Willey (CR’s designer of the year in 2014), delivered an equally honest talk on how he ‘accidentally’ became a graphic designer, and showed some of the process behind work for Zembla, Port, The Independent and the New York Times magazine.

As a child, Willey was diagnosed as profoundly deaf and his parents were told he wouldn’t be able to speak or study in mainstream education. With the help of a speech therapist, however, he started school a few years later. While he didn’t particularly enjoy school, Willey said he loved drawing and studied art at GCSE level, then A level, eventually earning a place on an illustration degree course at Central Saint Martins before switching to graphic design. “I didn’t get on with illustration, so I tried photography and that didn’t work out, then I went on to study graphic design…I’ve always been quite jealous of people who knew what they wanted to do from an early age,” he said.

After a period at Frost Design, where he worked on pop culture and literary magazine Zembla, Willey set up Studio 8 with partner Zoë Bather, working on editorial design, identities and exhibition graphics.


While best known for his editorial work, Willey said it was never his intention to focus on just one discipline, adding: “Your portfolio becomes a self-perpetuating thing…but it always slightly hurt me when people thought I just did magazines,” he added.

Offering an insight into the painstaking process of creating a great cover, he presented several failed ideas for Zembla (a fascinating selection of images which we covered on the blog back in August, and shown in the film above) – before going on to discuss the thinking behind men’s magazine Port, co-launched with Dan Crowe and Kuchar Swara in 2011 (read our article on the launch issue here).

Willey closed his studio in 2012 – “because I had never intended to be a designer, I had to stop and think about it,” he said. After researching other crafts including woodwork, however, he took on some editorial design jobs, and ended up having the most enjoyable year he had had as a graphic designer in 2013, he said – redesigning the RIBA Journal, guest editing and working on The Independent newspaper (you can read our interview with him about the newspaper’s redesign here), a project that was completed in just three months.

Now working as an art director at the New York Times, Willey said he had never considered himelf a ‘magazine person’, but had learned that magazines can be “wonderful vessels, if done well.” Since joining the title, he has worked on redesigning NY Times magazine. The project was a complete overhaul of its visual language, he said – Matthew Carter has drawn a new version of the logo for online use and Henrik Kubel created 29 typefaces in just four months.

“It’s an extraordinary luxury to be working there – they have a huge art department, and photo department – it’s a big, well-oiled machine,” he said.

Other talks from the final day included Andy Altmann of Why Not Associates, who showcased 27 years of projects from Why Not, from a catalogue for its first client, Next Directory, to typographic ads for Channel 4’s Dispatches, stamps for the 40th anniversary of the Queen’s accession, posters for Saatchi & Saatchi and the Tate and The Truth isn’t sexy, a national campaign to raise awareness of trafficking. He also spoke about the studio’s collaboration with Gordon Young to create Blackpool’s Comedy Carpet (featured in CR here).

Emily Oberman discussed her work for Saturday Night Live, plus campaigns for magazine Jane and a logo created in just three days for the Ebola crisis, while animation studio Cartoon Saloon gave an insight into the making of forthcoming animated Song of the Sea, based on Irish folklore (a project that has taken nine years to create), and Andrew Rae spoke about his illustrations and inspiration.

Images via Matthew Thompson

Photographer Matthew Thompson also presented some lovely photography for Philips headphones, featuring portraits of residents in New York, Los Angeles and London and a campaign for the Dublin Theatre Festival – a project he said designed to reconnect locals with the event by shooting people from around the city in pairs:

And a project documenting the life of Herman Wallace, a black rights activist who was sentenced to 40 years in solitary confinement at Louisiana State Penitentiary after being wrongly convicted of murder. Without being able to photograph Wallace in prison, Thompson worked with Maria Hinds of Amnesty International to photograph possessions he had accumulated over his time in confinement as well as the street he grew up on (see images from the project here).

Talks should be available on the OFFSET site later this year and dates for next year’s conference have now been announced. For details, see

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