We’re a small country. And Ireland probably isn’t the first place that jumps to mind when you think about international creativity hubs. That’s why OFFSET, the annual creative industry festival held in Dublin’s Docklands, is all the more remarkable.
It’s an event that punches above its weight on the international scene, to the point where it was recently ranked as one of the most significant milestones in modern design by Computer Arts Magazine (just beside the iPad). And over the years has attracted luminaries and legends of design, illustration and photography including Paula Scher, George Lois, Bob Gill and Oliviero Toscani.
These heavy hitters speak alongside an amazing pedigree of Irish talent; this year alone featured Maser (street art), Richard Moss (photography), Brown Bag Films (animation) and Chris Judge (illustration). There is world class work being done in this little country.
The fifth annual festival, which finished up just over a week ago, attracted over 2,200 delegates, including many from the IQ team. And we’re proud to support OFFSET in our own little way as a member ‘Friends of OFFSET’ programme.
IQ Content’s very own Lead Content strategist, Brian Herron has been a member of the OFFSET production team on and off since the festival began in 2009 in his own words, “writing things that needed writing and lifting things that needed lifting.” Last year he was full time on digital promotions and wrote much of the OFFSET book – the bible for delegates.
I spoke to Brian to get his take on what OFFSET means for the creative industries in Ireland.
Sheena Bouchier: What do you love about offset?
Brian Herron: Wooofph – all of it?
The event itself is incredibly inspiring, but I’m always surprised by how much of what happens during the OFFSET weekend gains more relevance over time, and often drives my thinking for the rest of the year. Even though what I do day-to-day doesn’t make me one of the core profiles of attendees at the festival (being a writer rather than a designer) I find that OFFSET influences both how I approach work and the way that I respond to other pieces of work that I see. I often find myself referring back to something a speaker said or to a design process I’ve learned about.
It’s a rallying call to never produce anything less than something great, no matter what restrictions there are.
SB: Give us an example of a specific inspiration …
One of the cool thing about the conference is that accidentally, because the guys don’t plan it this way, certain themes seem to emerge naturally. So in 2013 this theme of hackiness seemed to emerge. Iain Tate and Ji Lee both hit on it, as well as several others on the second stage. Ji Lee had his Bubble Project, which is where you stick speech bubbles on advertising and you can write whatever you want; and Taite helped build Poke London, who are experts in digital and real-world hackiness.
It’s the idea of using and manipulating the world and the environment around you to create something. Not waiting for the perfect scenario for a huge idea to be possible, just use what you have available to you.
That idea – using what is to hand in unusual and interesting ways – went into some of the projects we worked on at IQ Content like DART of PHYSICS. We tried to combine that spirit of hackiness with our own ethnographic research process to come up new experiences that could be integrated into people’s daily lives.
In some of our initial pitches for DART of PHYSICS, we were using coffee cups in the train stations to interrupt the commute and transparent stickers explaining scientific experiments stuck onto glass for people day dreaming out windows. It’s about looking at the world around you as an opportunity to start a conversation – I guess we’d call that a touchpoint.
I don’t want to sound highfaluting about it, but OFFSET has given me new perspectives and helped me think more creatively.
SB: What theme came out of this year?
BH: If hackiness was all about using what was around you, this year there was a lot of talk about restrictions – and how not being able to do something can be a creative driver. Jessica Walsh focused on this, Mother London spent a while talking about it and someone else …
SB: Richard Turley?
BH: Yeah, and it came up a couple of times on the second stage. Thinking of restrictions as creatively positive is really healthy for our industry. We’re usually really aware that we’re working within restrictions in terms of the digital projects we produce – platform limitations, development budgets, whatever.
iQ Content is on an continuum of a communications industry that stretches from programming and development all the way to advertising, marketing and PR. It’s a healthy reminder for us to know that those sort of restrictions are in-built across the entire scope of the industry, and that we should strive towards creative solutions to get the best results. It’s a rallying call to never produce anything less than something great, no matter what restrictions there are.
Maybe it’s like Judo – using the force of something that’s trying to stop you completing the job to your advantage.
SB: We work in web and digital design, but focused primarily on improving UX, whereas OFFSET seems like it’s all about the visual commercial arts. Is it beneficial for people in UX to expose themselves to a broader creative industry in this manner?
BH: We work at a point that intersects science and art and even though a lot of the people up there on the Offset stage weren’t necessarily talking about our kind of work, I think that’s a huge positive. I think there’s a temptation for us as UX designers, working in web, to go to UX conferences and go to development conferences and we sit there and we listen to each other and we end up in this closed box ghetto where all we’re thinking about is a neat, little slip of interaction we can use, or a new methodology to understand what the user wants.
Those practical things are obviously critical to what we do but there’s a whole lot of other things that we should think about – what are people responding to, what’s making them excited, what is inspiring them, are there better ways to think about problems in the context of a wider, non-digital world. It would be remiss of us not to try to engage with thinking from other disciplines.
A lot of what the speakers at OFFSET are talking about is about trying to discover a sense of joy and play in work (which is actually another theme that came up). We as UX designers often play as we try to figure out good interaction design. Who better to learn how to play from from than a bunch of lay-about, do-nothing creatives.
Getting back to touch points though, OFFSET has also provided a good context for interacting with the city. This year they ran the Transform the City Project in partnership with Absolut. They partnered with leCool to put a vending machine on Camden street that was filled with gifts from one of the businesses on the street, and you didn’t know what you were going to get.
We may not think of these things as being UX ideas, but I think they can be viewed that way. There’s a signal now on Capel street that lends tacit support to gay culture in Dublin and more particularly, expands Panti Bar‘s [a popular Dublin gay bar] integration with on old Dublin street, steeped in history.
It’s minor element of branding that helps to build an identity in a section of the city, but it also lends a little bit of affordance as to what the ‘purpose’ of this street is.
That little bit of signalling that translates an incredibly powerful idea in a creative and immediately understandable way.
There are great ideas that are not directly tied to what we do but they are tangential. And if we listen carefully we can take a lot from them and hopefully translate some of this thinking into our own work.
SB: Do you feel that digital, UX, and even interactive art are largely excluded from Offset?
BH: OFFSET is focused on the creative commercial arts – professionals working within certain industries; illustrators, designers, animators. It does touch on interactive art when appropriate, like you saw Jeff Greenspan talking on Friday discussing how the internet was used to disseminate the hipster bear traps, which was designed as a project that would spread online. And The World’s Most Exclusive Website, equally, is a digital art project.
It’s not a core focus of OFFSET, but there’s always been people represented who’ve used the internet cleverly, but it tends to be with a slant towards visual design. The second room is the place where ideas on new media have been explored more fully over the years. It is an area that is ripe for further discussion.
SB: Did anything exciting happen behind the scenes?
BH: No – or at least I’m not spilling any secrets. Yet.