Reflecting on what it means to be a designer in Ireland following the hugely enjoyable Offset 2013 conference.
I was asked this question a lot in 2005 when I told friends and colleagues that I’d decided to move from London to Dub
lin. I had attended art college in London for 4 years followed by two years working in a small graphic design studio in the city and had decided it was time to leave. I was surprised by the negative reaction I received and the questions raised about whether it was wise for a graphic designer to base themselves anywhere other than London, New York etc. I didn’t doubt that this was the right move but in 2005 it was hard to make a good case for why Dublin was a good place to be a graphic designer - I’d done my research so I knew there were lots of interesting graphic design studios producing quality work but I couldn’t explain this to my friends and colleagues without showing them 20 studio websites. So I gave up trying to justify my decision, moved to Dublin anyway and I haven’t regretted it once.
It became obvious very quickly that there was a huge amount of creativity in this city and it was much more friendly and accessible than it had been in London. A smaller city meant a smaller graphic design community and, this being Ireland, everyone knew everyone else. The community feel within the industry here was exemplified at the SweetTalk events - a series of design talks organised by Richard Seabrooke and Candy Collective. These were regular nights held at the Sugar Club where, alongside a healthy amount of socialising, you saw a mix of local and international speakers. The line up was always interesting and often very, very impressive – speakers included Wim Crowel, Adrian Shaughnessy, Stefan Sagmeister and many more. In my last year in London I had been to see one talk by Wally Olins, I would have gone to more but these talks and events tended to be expensive and so it wasn’t that accessible for a young designer like myself. What I liked about the SweetTalk events at the jam packed Sugar Club was that they were full of designers of every level from student up and from every type of agency.
Then in 2009 Richard teamed up with Bren and Peter to stage the first Offset event. It blew our minds. We sat in the dark for three days at Liberty Hall in the November of 2009 and it was incredible. We listened to international legends Massimo Vignelli, Sir Peter Blake and Harry Pearce and local heroes Atelier David Smith, Oliver Jeffers and Studio AAD - to name but a few. The news spread and the event is now 4 years old. In the next three editions of the annual three day event we’ve been inspired by Steve Heller, Alan Clarke, Daniel Eatock, David Carson, Lance Wyman, M&E, Mark Farrow, POKE London, Conor & David, Michael Beirut, Pony, Bob Gill, Paula Scher, Ciarán ÓGaora, Eric Kessels and none of us will ever forget seeing George Lois hold the Grand Canal Theatre in silence well into a Saturday evening in 2010.
And so to today. At Offset 2013, held last weekend, we watched another incredible array of some of the best creatives in our industry, both local and international. This year and last it is not only the speakers that have flown in that has been remarkable but also the creatives from all over Europe, and beyond, travelling to attend. Offset has become a respected event beyond our shores and the international attendance coupled with the favourable write ups in the design press are doing much to help raise Dublin’s design profile abroad. Of course Offset and SweetTalk aren’t the only two creative events or developments in Ireland but for me, and a lot of my peers, they have been some of the most influential. I think the strength of both lie in two things – their mix of local and international speakers and the relaxed nature of the events (which seems to be appreciated by delegates and speakers alike).
At Offset 2013 another important initiative in our development as an industry was launched. The 100 Archive is a new website documenting the past and future of visual communication design in Ireland. It’s a fantastic idea and a much needed resource to understand how our industry has developed and to catalogue the exciting work currently being produced by Irish designers, both here and abroad. As part of the launch of this new initiative I was delighted to have been invited onto the panel of ‘IRL > INTL’ on the final afternoon of Offset last weekend. Taking part in the discussion were five Irish designers who have either studied or worked outside Ireland and conversations centred around if there was such a thing as an Irish voice in design. It was a timely subject with the launch of the Archive and judging by the response from the room it felt like the beginning of many more conversations to come. Adrian Shaughnessy’s comments about the work being done by other fledgling design nations like ourselves gave an insight into the size of the task ahead of us but how exciting to be part of that journey. I think we all left enthused, excited and pretty determined to do all we can to help in the development of our industry here – did anyone else leave wanting to make a book or was that just me? Our strength lies in the vibrant community of creatives we are lucky enough to be a part of. There’s a tremendous enthusiasm that we see every year at Offset and now in the setting up of the 100 Archive and in the community it will become. So maybe it’s time to turn around that negative of being a fledgling design nation and put ourselves on the map.