Offset 2016

Since 2009 Offset, Dublin’s creative get together, has ballooned into a design event of international renown. Punching well above its weight since year one it should rightfully be mentioned in the same breath as that other stellar annual conference that up to recently took place in Dublin 4. While it doesn’t share that event’s scale or swagger it has brought heavyweights to Dublin that may otherwise have been considered well out of the league of a small European city.

The first year’s line up included Modernist design legend Massimo Vignelli (he of American Airlines identity and the New York Subway map fame) and luminaries along the way including David Carson (excellent TED talk here), Stefan Sagmeister (ditto), Jessica Walsh (best known for the 40 Days of Dating project), Neville Brody (80’s The Face magazine maverick)… the list goes on. Last year Offset hosted its inaugural event in London though it doesn’t look as though there are any plans to move the main event from Grand Canal Dock.

Graphic design, illustration, branding and motion graphics are largely the focus of the event though there has been a move to feature more interaction design elements of late even if they are away from the main stage.

Talks that do resonate tend to have an honesty and humour rather than using the opportunity to list achievements  – one of the funniest talks I saw was Richard Mosse in 2014 who discussed the seriousness of the conflict in the Eastern Congo for his striking series of photographs from the region.

Sometimes you don’t have a solution

Stephen Kelleher was just one of those speakers and kicked off this year’s event with a talk that leaned heavily on the personal. Following a move from Dublin he enjoyed a successful career in motion graphics in New York with an enviable list of big name clients. One of the projects he has worked on is the innovative IBM US Open Datagrams – infographic animations posted on Instagram using live match data.

A cancer diagnosis prompted an extended period of surgery, treatment and recovery at home but returning to Brooklyn following the all clear there was an understandable shift in his priorities where client work wasn’t necessarily the most important aspect of his life.

A period of profound re-evaluation ensued during which he started to consider received ideas of masculinity and sexuality and posted a series of homo-erotic, S&M tinged images on Instagram; think a PG Robert Mapplethorpe (on who a new documentary is soon to be released). Divisive though they were among friends and family the images were part of something he felt compelled to explore following his encounter with mortality  – “When you’re a designer you’re always trying to find a solution and sometimes things don’t have a solution”.

The honesty was evident in many of the other standout talks including 4Creative’s tales of a boom/bust career and Jonathan Barnbrook’s reminiscences of working with Bowie who “had earned the right to be a c**t, but I don’t think he knew how to be nasty to people”. Artist Russell Mills, possibly best known for his Nine Inch Nails album covers, struck a sombre but riveting note presenting work inspired by post-mortems and the holocaust and served as a valuable contrast to the twin dogmas of designing with your audience in mind and our obsession with data – “What matters cannot be measured”.

The future of innovation

Design is everywhere these days from the nebulous ‘design thinking’ to the proliferation of UX strategies and it seems that designers, for now, are in as much demand as developers. These days many corporate websites feature images of smiling millennials convening around walls of neatly arranged post-its against a backdrop of exposed brickwork and outsized filament lightbulbs; images that would, no doubt, be alien to most of their desk tethered employees. That said there is a real appreciation of the value of design within an organisation whether that’s designing software or experiences. This is most evident in banking, not a sector traditionally associated with design, but Capital One’s 2014 acquisition of Adaptive Path showed us that that there is a perception in finance that designers benefit the bottom line; not merely by employing consultants in the short-term but by embedding designers within the organisation.

Fjord, part of Accenture Interactive, hosted many of the talks on the Accenture Innovation Stage presentations centred on projected Design Trends for 2016  – a difficult call to make. In the introduction presenter Andrew Beckley talked about the pace of change and the McLuhanite advice they often offer clients – you can’t base an organisation or role around a single channel e.g. there’s little point in having a Head of Mobile or Digital when the channels are just impermanent conduits for your service or product. 

The trends included the death of the app (services first) and mainstream adoption of VR (we’ll see…):

There’s a lot of talk about the impact of AI on the future of work and our interactions with machines. A discussion of Cognitive Agents featuring IBM’s Padraig Mannion and Intercom’s Emmet Connolly ranged from the changing role for designers to user assumptions when using voice or chat interfaces. Whether it’s Siri or Slackbot the expectations we bring to the interaction are crucial; in the case of the former Apple’s marketing set expectations disproportionately high while the latter sets them intentionally low.

As both visual culture and the value of design becomes more widely understood and we see an increase in those who consider their roles as design focusseed Offset can only become more popular in the coming years both within and outside the design community.

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