Offset 2014

David Dowling

28 March 2014

There’ll be tonnes of reviews of Offset so rather than share my experience talk by talk I’m going to go through it based on the themes I saw reoccurring throughout the different talks.

I’ve broken it down to six basic themes which I think provided the undercurrent of the weekend.



The idea of work as play (or play as work) and the way it can influence and drive your work was an interesting concept. For both Jessica Walsh and Sarah Illenberger it is a core part of their work. Being experimental and working with their hands is a crucial part of their day-to-day. Far from the über-stylish ‘flat graphics’ which underpin (or undermine — depends on your point of view) contemporary design, their work is bursting with a playful tone that doesn’t feel like it’s been spat out by a robot.


Jessica Walsh’s work for Aizone.



Sarah Illenberger’s genius collection of things made from other things.




The positive associations with the term failing are an interesting recent development. Working in a city like London it can feel a bit like living on a hamster wheel and the fear of falling off seems to keep people running forward without knowing where they’re going. I know it’s something I struggle with — the feeling of being unable to fail. It’s not failing to meet deadlines or keep a business sustainable I’m talking about here, they’re a given. It’s more a way of thinking, a way of working. Trying ideas which are unproven and challenging for both the agency and client. More and more I’m realising that it’s the ideas that challenge conventions and reside in the unknown and uncomfortable that generate exciting results.



This leads nicely to the next theme; handmade. Not in the sense of hand drawn illustration or art but rather in designing with imperfections. It was clear from a number of speakers that the mistakes generated from handmade things were more interesting than the things themselves. In a design culture full of perfectly drawn but impersonal icons, design that isn’t perfect sometimes feels more human.

The intro stings for the speakers were a particularly impressive display of this. Created by M&E a design duo from Ireland & Sweden. They featured handmade type being plunged into ink & water to create psychedelic typographic loveliness.


This lovely shot tweeted by Offset shows them being made.




Find your own authentic voice and speak with it very loudly”
— Jeff Greenspan

The theme of allowing your personality to invade your work was unsurprisingly evident in nearly every speaker and I guess it’s not much of a shock. The calibre of creative speaking at Offset is huge and this comes not from a standard working formula but from a personal drive and ambition to always be better.

Jeff Greenspan‘s ‘Hipster Trap’ and ‘The World’s Most Exclusive Website’ showed that a great idea doesn’t need massive finances backing it to be realised — just determination. His talk was reminiscent of Ji Lee‘s from Offset 2013 where he showed his personal projects.


Jeff Greenspan’s ‘Hipster Trap’.




Neville Brody’s talk kicked off a debate about education and who should bear the brunt of the cost. It continued on in his interview with Adrian Shaughnessy straight after. Brody contended that the cost should be born by the design industry itself and that design agencies should be investing in their own future.



The blank page reared it’s ugly head this weekend. What do you do with a completely open brief? Mark Waites from Mother London reckons that if client came with an open brief they’d end up producing nothing. Jessica Walsh makes up her own constraints when approached with more open briefs. I think it’s a fairly universal need for there to be a problem in order to come up with a solution.


Every year there’s a couple of things that I take from Offset. This year I plan to slow down, take more risks, make stuff by hand and be a bit more playful. Which should be fun.