I want to talk about Interesting 2007 for a bit.
Not a review, not a discussion about the effect on the global conference market, just a few observations on the graphic design project.
I guess we've all done work for friends or friends of friends. We certainly have here, and almost every time it's gone tits up. Or at the very best it hasn't gone very well. This was a big concern of mine when Russell asked us to help out with Interesting.
It's a fantastic project, really intriguing. But history tells us to avoid these projects like the plague. They always go tits up.
This one didn't. In fact, I think it went rather well.
So why is that? Although I don't really know; several reasons spring to mind. Possibly Russell is more used to working with designers than previous friends; although we've worked with people who have worked with designers before. From the outset we agreed a budget of zero; I think this is important, as free is very different from cheap. You can't beat quite good and free as someone once said.
On to the brief. The hardest part of this brief was to create something when nothing was really needed, in the traditional sense anyway. For a normal conference you'd need brochures, adverts, banners and all sorts of other bumpf. Interesting didn't need any of this. The tickets were already sold out before we started working on the project.
Yet we still needed a 'look', we still needed a visual language and Russell needed some images to stick on the blog from time to time.
The second hardest part was to make it genuinely interesting. Interesting by actually being interesting rather than by trying to create interesting. Interesting without being messy and incoherent. Interesting without getting sick of the bloody word interesting.
Harder than it sounds.
This is the little logo type we created. A proper old fashioned logo type. It's not a typeface (it was hand drawn) it's not a blurry symbol. It doesn't change colour. In fact it doesn't change at all. It's a mark.
It's deceptively simple, and at first it doesn't look that important. But look how hard that little fella worked. It was used in black, in white, and reversed out of a square. Just sitting there, not getting in the way, communicating clearly.
It worked on almost every colour known to plastics manufacturers, it worked on record sleeves, tshirts and lots else. (If 'lots else' is valid English.)
Lots of interesting, exciting things happened that we didn't expect or we didn't predict. Early on Kingsley spent a day at home making screens and he emailed them into the office.
Just great little images. The logotype quietly sitting there.
And then Russell started using them in blog posts.
This is what I'm going to call the visual language spilling out (because I can't think of a more sensible expression to describe what I mean). It's all there, you recognise it as Interesting 2007, it all fits, it's all on brand... and yet there's no big identity manual, there's no brand manager, there's no marketing plan.
Quite close to the big day Dino rang and donated 350 CD's of a mix he'd made. It seemed appropriate, interesting and (sorry) on brand to reuse 7 inch singles. We bought 250 odd from eBay for about £5 and we traded the rest with our friendly local Oxfam manager. And so Tom and Kingsley created this fantastic CD holder. Here's that logotype again, just sitting there, not getting in the way, communicating clearly, adding to the thing.
One aspect I found really interesting - as well as the 'official stuff', the tshirts
the bags and the CDs;
was the visual language spilling out into the day and into the far reaches of the blogosphere.
Here's Matt sporting the logo on his presentation and wearing his tshirt. Bonus points for that.
It's all there, you recognise it as Interesting 2007, it all fits, it's all on brand...
What's interesting for me as a designer is how the visual language seemed to take on a life of it's own. Even within our studio. Without instruction it spread in a way that was always totally appropriate. The designers biggest fear when having anything less than 100% control is that everything will look shit. This didn't happen, in fact I thought the randomness of the substrates, blog posts, Flickr pictures added to the richness of the project. Which was the idea, without being the idea. If you see what I mean.
Russell and I had talked before about big brands allowing their logos to be remixed and allowing people to create their own versions of logos and graphics. I doubt if that will happen anytime soon, but I think there's some really interesting lessons about control here. It would be nice if a brand could create a true spirit or a 'way' for the graphics (not for the brand, but for the graphics) that was then allowed to be taken and interrupted by consumers, users and people. "You are more than what you have become" as Mufasa says to Simba in The Lion King.
There's also something very interesting about the reusing aspect. We didn't produce any new stuff. We added more value to existing things. That's not easy to do well or to do seriously, but when it comes off, again, it seems to be more than the sum of it's parts. Surely that's what a lot of branding is about today? Becoming more than the sum of your parts?
It was genuinely rewarding to see how chuffed people were to collect their tshirts. If you're a graphic designer you don't often see that sort of reaction to your work.
This is Dan Burgess' tshirt.
I hope there's a brand (a big, high street brand) that could adapt some of these principles and build something big and powerful without micro managing it. Surrendering control and gaining influence and so much more.