Welcome to the very first Sex, Drugs & Helvetica live conference blog, frantically typed by caffeine-fueled SD&H Editor Cat Wall (actual name). Strap yourselves in as she stops talking about herself in third person to deliver you the hot goss, red carpet report and live updates from our 2014 Melbourne conference.
0925 Testing… 1… 2…
1005 Hey there, internet inhabitants. It’s a beautiful morning at Melbourne Convention Centre. Our first conference for 2014 is almost ready to roll, guests are piling in in a flurry of Herschel backpacks, thick-rimmed glasses and facial hair, we’re two coffees deep and everything is just a little bit exciting.
1025 Keeping up-to-date via social media? Head to @sdhelvetica or #sdhmel2014 for all your tweety, grammy needs.
1032 Lights down, baby. It’s time.
1035 The dashing Andrew Murray, MCing once again, welcomes everyone to what he calls our “Goblet of Fire”. It’s true, it’s the fourth SD&H conference, and there’s really no better way to kick things off than with a Harry Potter reference.
1039 Chris Doyle takes the stage and takes no time in letting everyone know Melbourne is his favourite city. Sorry, Sydney.
1040 Chris says he doesn’t feel qualified to present at today’s conference. Was worried he wouldn’t have enough to walk about. We disagree. Today he’ll be talking us through the creative process, challenges and results of working on an album cover.
1043 Album artwork is incredibly hard to solve. He finds the process “almost impossible” and feels like he’s creating art in response to art.
1045 BREAKING NEWS: Chris Doyle spent a good number of years front-manning a screamo band. Not a joke. There are photos. Anyway, the initial introduction to creating album art came from a “young band with little money” phone call. It was The Jezabels.
1055 Design-wise, their LP artwork was a much bigger process to the three EP covers he worked on for them. Both the album and cover art were nominated for an ARIA. They then went through a process of “reinvention and relocation”. The Jezabels moved to London, Chris resigned from his job and began working for himself. It gave him a lot more time and freedom for the next album artwork… via a lot of Skype calls. Skype, of course, is a fickle mistress. Sick of calls dropping out, he began sending through incredibly detailed concept presentations in PDFs.
1110 Chris talks about the stress associated with having a concept go from almost-signed-off to a complete start-over in the space of a few days. And a frantic struggle to curate moodboards and make conceptual leaps without any real rationale. He found an image and an artist from Poland. The band loved it. But he found himself in a dangerous space between relief and the limbo between that and bringing the project to a close. They finalised the artwork and he realised he was uncomfortable that he’d created “art in response to art”. The lesson for him was to open himself up to new ways of thinking.
1115 In presentations, be they in auditoriums like this or an office space, Chris doesn’t present his work differently. Part of what clients are investing in is him, as much as it is the work. His process and presentation style doesn’t deviate from what he is.
1125 At the end of the day, someone else provided the artwork for The Brink. A Polish artist. It was strange for Chris to be the “curator” of the artwork, rather than the “creator”. It took a while for him to be comfortable with that idea but he says it’s okay. It didn’t mean that he hadn’t done his job and he appreciated the beauty in the minimalism of the project.
Fabio Ongarato & Ronnen Goren – Fabio Ongarato Design, Melbourne
1135 Today Fabio and Ronnen are talking about the RMIT Design Hub. It gave them a rare opportunity to give something back to the design industry, so they had no hesitation in pitching for the project. They emphasise the importance and value of the clear and concise brief they received from the client.
1145 They had to contend with how the Design Hub would sit withing the master identity of RMIT. The last thing they wanted to do was create a logo within a sea of logos. It was never going to be conventional. Their typeface of choice needed to be iconic, but not impose upon the content. They wanted it to have an architectural quality. They looked at colour in architecture – how it would hit the building at certain angles and how this would create diversity in their design. When applying this concept to a website roll out, they wanted it to be almost lo-fi and clunky – much like the actual architectural process. It wasn’t meant to feel polished. Their design for the printed program guides, again, added to the idea of “layering” concepts and ideas. What they loved about the project was that it emphasised one of their core values – an idea at the heart of everything they do. It is a prime example of the way print and identity can relate to the built environment.
1150 Everything was running smoothly. Enter: mega-branding. Sitting within a master brand and dealing with external stakeholders turned things on its head. Two weeks before the official opening, there was no website, no programs and nothing to show. That said, the story ended well. Great, intelligent clients and strong ideas always win in terms of rationale.
1155 They won the pitch because it “spoke back” to the client. It re-articulated the client’s needs. The client said it’s wasn’t until someone gave it back to them in a design form, where Fabio and Ronnen had visualised the words they put on paper, that they started to see their project actualise. The website is extreme in its simplicity. It’s organised chaos. They wanted to show that there is a lot of stuff going on there. It uses the layers and graphics that are so present in the architecture of the building. Every aspect of the design collateral is connected and integrated. It’s a harmony based on chaos. The best thing you can do when you create a project is keep it small, tight, critical and fun.
1200 The pitch initially came from a small department, liaising with the university’s Vice-Chancellor. And then the other stakeholders came in. It’s something difficult we face as designers. You think you have consensus, that things are going well, then they “take it home and show their partner” and suddenly you’re faced with a whirlwind of new visions and opinions. Design in itself is a journey, and you can never predict what’s coming around the corner.
1205 Where do you start when you’re researching the design for a building? It’s different for every collaboration. It’s about being adaptive. In this instance, the building became a metaphor because it was so unique. The building itself was perfect for them to create a visual dialogue around. Plus a good rationale and strong thinking helps to create an idea that stands up for itself.
1210 “We’re pretty ordinary people who are just committed to doing good work and creating good outcomes.” Ha. Yeah. More like ordinary DESIGN WIZARDS.
1215 We’re breaking for lunch, kids. Consider this your hour-long ad break.
1320 We’re back from lunch and into the afternoon lineup, which is really going to test the 24-hour time skills. Help us, Google. Guests are re-entering the room to the soothing tones of Darude’s Sandstorm.
1322 That was, of course, a joke and it should be known that the SD&H playlist, carefully curated by a team of experts, is flawless. In the mean time, here is an important video to tie you over until our next wonderful speaker. You’re welcome.
1330 A massive round of thanks to Chris Doyle for a free copy of his self-initiated Seen Made Drawn Found publication for each audience member. Also big ups to our program partners at Holmesglen and Campaign Monitor.
1340 Michaela Webb takes the stage. Needless to say, she is fabulous. Today she is talking about their branding and identity work for a hotel in Canberra – an entirely unique experience for the team at Round. The client wanted to start by having conversations. There was a year of conversations before any work began.
1345 They learnt new facts and things about hotel technology. Like programs that determine how soft your pillow is and remember it for next time. Creepy, yet delightfully comfortable. With hotel branding, you can become fixated on what a piece of stationery looks like, but Round wanted to show a journey of a user. The technology-savvy woman, the older businessman etc. They tracked the journey of a number of people and looked at how they would engage with the hotel and at what points.
1355 The hotel naming arose from the values. They wanted it to be very default. It was named Hotel Hotel. A place for people people. They looked at signage, interior, the idea of “default” and Buckminster Fuller’s ideas. It was a very long process, but they came to the conclusion of creating based on the “beg/borrow/steal” premise. It wasn’t about creating more. There was no point creating something new when there was already so much out there. They went on a scavenger hunt for discarded and excess hotel materials and stock. They printed the hotel identity on top of old, disused stock from other hotels… and then they became concerned about issues with ownership and lawsuits. They stole laundry bags, pencils, brochures, quotes… they even stole websites from other hotels.
1405 They had a bunch of excess material and needed to get something out. They wanted the identity to deliver, so they created a kit – luggage tags, in-room snacks, embossers for wax seals, toiletry bags. They kept the tone-of-voice cheeky – “Oh, shit! A fire! (and what to do in case of one)” sits on the back of each hotel door with evacuation plans. Right down to email signatures, booking confirmations and eDMs that went out. They left the project, they’re no longer working on it, but they believe it’s going to be an identity that keeps evolving. The time has changed where you lock down an identity and it stays that way forever. We’re at a time as designers, where we begin a job and let other designers carry on the voice.
1410 Michaela talks about how the industry has changed its view of women in design. She spent six months working on a project in her early career, only to be turned down before presenting, due to the fact she was a woman. She’s glad to see so many women here today, and says the industry has changed and is definitely continuing to change for the better. Yes. Such an inspiration for young, female designers. She’s like the design industry’s Beyoncé.
1415 “I remember when I was 21, I was buried deep in a techno dungeon in Berlin. I definitely wasn’t organising any design conferences.” What an opener.
1418 Tim says we’re very lucky to be in the roles we’re in. What we do is so interesting. We can explore cultures, dive into new things, and we can move on. We can keep exploring what other people need from us to engage new things. Stay curious at all times.
1425 Brains, passion, courage, trust. For Tim, these are the four things that characterise a good client. They’re intelligent. They’re there because they want to be. They’re not afraid to take a risk and be courageous enough to get something done. And trust, which is the main foundation for any project. We work in a great time where something can be built in a short amount of time. Tim wants to talk about how you can work with others to achieve the most outrageous ideas in a very short amount of time.
1430 Oh. Game changer. He has everyone on their feet. Anyone who hasn’t worked professionally has to sit down… sorry, students. He runs through a series of questions until the only ones left standing are those who have worked on collaborative projects with other agencies and built strong client relationships with the opportunity for new challenges with the same clients. He says this is rare, but so important.
1435 He talks about getting on board with a project called Save Our Sons – a non-profit organisation developed to raise awareness about children with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. They approached the project like this: “I don’t yet know how, but one day we will be able to help you.” And then Tim was emailed a prototype – a robotic arm developed to write and communicate for children with DMD. They started working towards a campaign to garner support. Tim says 80 per cent lies in the idea and execution is the other 80 per cent. Not a typo. Do things.
1440 It was here where they had to get other people on board. YouTube campaigns, Google stuff, events, campaign ambassadors. Tim talks about the importance and influence of language and communication. Open your mind for copywriting as much as design. PREACH. They created a logo and website for the robotic arm. A video that shows how the arm works. A photo of the robot signing your name for you as you supported the campaign. He shows the video used to support and explain the case study behind the campaign. It’s very moving. None of us are crying, it’s just that fresh spring air making our eyes water.
1445 It’s great if you can condense a campaign and design into one story. Everything is immediate. It moves instantly. “On the internet, we haven’t got all minute”. You have to think about mobility as an idea, not as a phone. Think about things as on the move, all the time. As a creative, there’s an immense reward in seeing feedback immediately. In this day and age, we’ve come to accept things like Facebook as just an extension of our natural identity. When you understand that, you can simplify technology to a point where it feels part of you.
1450 Why is collaboration important? “I think the work gets better”. There’s a certain familiarity after you’re working with the same people for a few years. You have to work together to get to another level of creative excellence. People are a bit scared about getting other people in. You can gain a lot by reaching out and getting in the expertise you don’t have – like copywriting.
1510 We’ve hit our afternoon break, there’s a Snickers involved and it’s an all-Bowie dance affair in the auditorium.
1525 We’re back from our afternoon break and, ladies and gents, in true Sex, Drugs & Helvetica tradition, Mr Andrew Murray is back on stage with a costume change and, my gosh, it’s beautiful, it’s flawless, it’s everything you’ve ever dreamed of. Get the Melbourne Spring Fashion Week team on the phone, we’ve got ourselves a late contender.
1526 Huge thanks to Tractor Design School and UBER, some more of our wonderful event partners.
1535 Brand is who you are. Identity is what you look like. Kevin disagrees with saying “we build brands”. He says designers who say that don’t know what they’re talking about. Or they’re lying. Or they’re in an incredibly rare position. A brand is who you are – the core value of your business offer and a promise to your customers. It is the sum of experiences a customer has with your service. Designers are useful when it comes to branding, not building brands. Unless they’re in a position where they’re a long-term collaborator, they do not build brands. To build a brand, you have to work with a brand, day in and out. Kevin debated whether to talk about branding, or building a brand today. He opted for the “building” part.
1540 It began with a conversation on a rooftop about designers being design nerds. Enter: DESIGNerd – for design enthusiasts. He had a logo, but no concept for what his product actually is. He developed the trivia concept (points, categories, bonuses, hints) and packaging, he got it printed in China. And then realised “GD/V1” sounded more like a disease than a fun design-related product. True. So he changed it to 100+ and did some product testing. With people like Stefan Sagmeister. No biggie. From concept to launch, it took a year.
1550 Then Stefan asked him about product cost. Kevin had no idea. He worked it out. Then Stefan suggested he built an app. It was already in the works… but he’d never designed an app before, and the app product needed to be different to the actual product. It was a massive process, which came to a halt when personal circumstances took place. Life happens. It took some time before he got back into developing the app, and that was okay. It took five years in total from concept to app launch.
1557 Design is everything, but it can also blind you. Early in the process, Kevin was getting really bogged down in the aesthetic. It’s really difficult to make something simple and strip it back. Launching a product, starting a brand takes time. It takes commitment, it takes money, but it’s incredibly satisfying. Especially when you get positive feedback from the likes of Stefan Sagmeister, Steven Heller and Debbie Millman, who will, incidentally, be developing a volume of the game on branding. Kevin says life hurdles get in the way and it’s hard to do it on your own. Collaboration is key. In those moments of doubt, it takes belief. You can’t create something meaningful if you don’t believe in it. It also takes a sprinkle of madness. It’s taken him a long time, but Kevin now really believes in DESIGNerd as an entertainment and educational tool. He believes in the product because he loves design and he wants to celebrate it.
1605 Kevin has a lot to say about design education. The design industry is pumping out designers who are just designing aesthetic things. We’re not educating students to be able to understand how design is applied to strategy, copywriting, and thinking in general. There are clients who understand design is holistic and those who look at design for the sake of design. The climate and attitude towards design is changing. We need to start teaching designers to articulate their ideas and work. It’s a huge benefit to clients when they really understand what they’re getting involved with.
1610 Kevin says you need to find comfort in being uncomfortable. You need to embrace it. It scares the shit out of you, but it really expands you.
1615 Michael C Place. What an honour. Starts by introducing us to his little studio in Walthamstow. And his
creepy lovely bald cats.
1620 They try to build a network of collaborators, bringing in people on a project-by-project basis. They’re a small studio. Today he’s going to talk about a project that was incredibly difficult for them for various reasons – PlusPlus. Michael believes you won’t get the best out of a project unless you challenge the client.
1630 As a designer, he wants to do things he hasn’t done before. He’ll try anything once. When they were approached by the client, they were excited to take on the three-month job. They wanted to build a character-based identity. They spent a lot of time trawling through Edik’s realms of work to present some references to the client. They didn’t want the character to be human-based, they wanted to look at shapes. Sticking a face on anything, immediately gives it character.
1635 Michael likens the first round of proposals to a client to the first time you fart in front of your significant other – it’s nerve-wracking and you’re laying yourself bare. There are three possible responses: a) deadpan, b) ew. and c) laughter. No response is worse than a negative response for him. Historically, they were a studio that was very print-based, so it was difficult for them to adapt their style to suit a children’s TV station. They presented black and white concepts (who has a black and white TV?). They presented letterheads (… for a TV station?). He says they weren’t looking at the project from a digital perspective and the negative feedback they received was spot on.
1642 As designers, it’s our job to demonstrate systems. Present to clients so they can see their product in situ. He presents a series of incredibly quirky, cute and wonderful teaser clips.
1646 When you hand over a job, your client should be able to take it from there. Guidelines are important. If they can’t take over the product and branding then you haven’t done your job properly. It’s really extensive stuff and you need to give them everything they need to make your system work.
1648 Michael turns things a little bit Kanye – “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.”
1650 They took the negative feedback incredibly personally to begin with, before realising there are stresses on both sides and both the client and designer are, ultimately, trying to achieve the same goal. You have to realise that it’s a job.
1655 And that’s a wrap. Thank you to our incredible speakers. Thank you to everyone who tuned in. It’s all over until tomorrow, when the finger-strengthening training begins for next year’s frantic live-feed. #bulkingforSDH