Designival 2012

Designival screen prints at the Percy Gulliver’s popup shop. Image courtesy of Designival.

When it was first announced Designival seemed a little underwhelming but that was largely due to the time between the announcement and when the speakers and programme of events were announced. I’ll admit even then I had never heard of Sara de Bondt, James Jarvis or Simon Manchipp before but it’s far more interesting to be surprised by someone new to you than to see someone who’s work you’re familiar with.

When the day came the only real disappointment was that I was too late to get a free breakfast! I didn’t sign up to any of the workshops or the portfolio surgery as I had to get in a few hours work so I stuck to seeing the lectures, popup shops and having a game of ping pong. Here’s a review of the speakers at Designival…

Sara de Bondt

Sara is a graphic designer with a strong focus on research and has recently moved from London to Liverpool. I didn’t get a chance to ask her why exactly but let’s face it – Liverpool is awesome. She also co-founded the indie book publisher Occasional Papers.

Her lecture involved a look through some of the projects she worked on, but not just focussed on the design – it was everything around the design. The research, process, the philosophy, manufacturing the ideas… While I could go into the details of the projects themselves she explains them much better on her website. What I can do is tell you what I took from it.

The thought that intrigued me the most is how the statement of a design or the values of a brand can be made more real by its physical actions. The case in point being the Radical Nature exhibition at the Barbican. The goal was to make the programme for the entire exhibition as eco-friendly as possible to match its content.

Sara and her team found ways to reduce printing costs by reusing the backs of old posters in the Barbican archives, using eco-friendly inks, creating benches from waste materials from old exhibitions, using a typeface designed to use less ink and more.

While that is one example the thinking can be applied to almost any brand with well-defined values. The digital world is only one facet of what we do where it is far easier to say something than to effect it.

James Jarvis

Have to admit I missed most of James’ talk due to the aforementioned work I had to do. Sorry James! Everyone I spoke to about it was impressed though, so if you saw him speaking please add your thoughts in the comments!

Simon Manchipp

Simon Manchipp on stage. Image courtesy of Designival.

This was one of the highlights for me – lots of practical insights into branding in the digital age, with a big emphasis on social media.

Simon went through the 10 points that direct his approach to design and creating “brand worlds” with plenty of humour and cat gifs thrown in. The following are the notes I hastily tapped into my phone.

  • Having an opinion is good
  • Consistency is boring
  • Coherence is better
  • Brands are actions, not logos, fonts and colours
  • A brand should be people-centric, social
  • Create a system, not guidelines – encourage creativity
  • Logos are dead (if they’re inflexible or without context)
  • Multiple ideas are better than one big idea
  • A re-brand should be a symbol of change, not a change of symbol
  • Find ownable moments – like Red Bull with Stratos, or the Flugtag
  • Creativity is all risk – at odds with business
  • Weird shit works – it’s memorable

All of the above is aimed at becoming an asset in your client’s eyes and not just another cost to be kept to a minimum. In this way you can start to create a cycle of doing interesting work so you can have fun and earn enough money, which will lead to more interesting work and so on…

I liked Simon’s approach and he was a brilliant and riveting speaker. One of the most important things in the field of design which is easily forgotten is that rules are there to be bent, and that design and branding that works is evolving as quickly as the technology we use to consume it.

Lance Wyman

Lance Wyman comparing the postage stamps for Mexico ’68 and the Apple iPod adverts. Image courtesy of Designival.

A wonderfully humble man, Lance recounted a potted history of his life and his most significant works – notably the Mexico ’68 Olympics programme. His work largely features public wayfinding programmes eg. for train lines, a zoo but also some beautiful geometric and meaningful logo designs. I was also amusing to see the parallels (or sometimes direct ‘inspiration’) that Apple took from the Mexico ’68 programme. Remember those iconic iPod adverts with a silhouette of a person dancing against a brightly coloured background? The same silhouette on bright colour design appears on the olympic postage stamp designs from the 60′s.

Recounting Lance’s life history and everything covered in his talk is not the subject of this post however it does lead me into the discussion held after the talks with Simon Manchipp and Lance where I noticed two very different outlooks on design and branding.

Simon & Lance in coNversation with Patrick Burgoyne of Creative Review

Starting with some questions from Patrick exploring the similarities and differences of the two designer’s works for the Mexico ’68 and London 2012 Olympics respectively it became clear that the two men look at their work in very different ways.

While Simon talked about the creation of “brand worlds” and creating coherence through many different ideas Lance always referred to the full scope of a design project as a “Programme”, that encompassed a whole system. I got the impression that Simon has a very romantic view of branding while Lance appeared to me to be more down to earth.

Crowds gathered on a Mexico ’68 logo sculpture. Image courtesy of Designival.

I’m not arguing that one viewpoint or the other works better but there are some contradictions between the two. One of the questions was whether the Mexico ’68 programme was globally liked. The simple answer from Lance was “yes.” He had never heard anyone say they disliked it. It was well-researched, taking its bright colours and concentric lines from pre-Hispanic Mexican art. It was developed from a point of cultural relevance. In Lance’s words for that particular programme:

“It was one of those projects where the stars aligned and everything just worked. I’d love to have another one like that!”

Multiple uses of the London 2012 logo. Image courtesy of Wolff Olins.

Contrast that with Simon’s mantra that “you can’t please everyone” and having an opinion or being divisive is good. That to some extent explains the reception of the London 2012 logo when it was unveiled 6 years prior to the games. It is true that without context, relevance or meaning the logo was bound to be disliked. Interestingly (by a show of hands) many people’s opinion has shifted towards liking it now that it is associated with what was a spectacular event. Simon’s observations from his talk that a new logo on its own is dead certainly rung true for London 2012.

Despite the shift in opinion towards liking the London 2012 branding there were still many who didn’t like the logo at least aesthetically. There are three main arguments in favour of it that I’m aware of:

  1. There was a limited amount of time to make an impact in the visually cluttered city of London. The sharp angles and neon colours are diametrically opposed to almost every other brand out there.
  2. It was designed to be modified and used by people as you can see in the image, unfortunately LOCOG put an end to that.
  3. It avoided the obvious, unmemorable cultural clichés that so many Olympic logos have fallen foul of in the past.

Point number 3 was one that Simon raised a number of times in defense of London 2012 and it’s a fair point. Clichés are often weakly used and can speak more about themselves than they do the subject, especially in a logo. It did seem to me however that given the reception of Lance’s program it is absolutely possible to produce design that is not divisive but rather unifying, memorable and adaptable (the designs were modified for political protests by students) despite its strong roots in Mexican art and culture. Unity is such a big part of the Olympic values after all and some people felt that message was lost in the London 2012 logo.

It was at this point I posed them the question “How important is a sense of place in how a brand is received by the public?”

Mentioned earlier in his talk the branding by Simon’s agency for a new airline called FastJet in East Africa made use of a grey parrot. From their perspective it was something unexpected, weird and therefore memorable but then further research they carried out showed they were common in the countries serviced and many people had them as pets. The campaign was a huge success and from Simon’s point of view was in a large way to do with the apparent strangeness of the choice of mascot. He indicated that a sense of place and unity is less useful for a successful campaign than being divisive and opinionated. I’m not convinced personally and think Lance’s approach to design has real merit too – it doesn’t fear cliché but makes use of it in a very accessible and functional way. Much of his work for wayfinding in transit systems involved gathering public opinion and distilling the features of each location on a train line into recognisable symbols or pictograms. This helped people to know what was around them and feel a deeper bond with the place they live in.

Of course when it comes to a sense of place it is difficult to find solutions that incorporate it without being exclusive, and it of course depends on the who/what the brand is for. One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot since Designival is how you can identify yourself or a company through references to what are at their core – human values. Art, history, music, architecture, there are many things that unite us.

Let’s wrap this up

Designival itself was a fantastic day, the speakers were inspiring, the discussion even more so, the company was excellent and I’m really happy I picked up a ticket. Camp & Furnace is great place to be although the clanking from the coffee machine in the bar could be a little distracting during the talks. Smiling Wolf, Uniform and Black & Ginger should be very proud of what they achieved and I would defo recommend you go next year!

Comments
  • scott mccubbin 7 / Dec / 2012 at 4:32 pm

    Clanking coffee machines! ok ok, glad you like the event Robert. And what a venue! We’ll investigate the clanker. Three clanks and there out.

    • Robert O'Rourke
      Robert O'Rourke 7 / Dec / 2012 at 4:41 pm

      Haha! It was honestly only a small niggle, I think it was when the bar staff were bashing out the used ground coffee and the door to the bar was still open. Bit of soundproofing over the door would do the trick, and yes, awesome venue!

      Looking forward to next year’s :)

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