Monday, 11:00am
23 March 2015

Offset 2015: day three

Andrew Rae, Matthew Thompson, Sue Murphy, Matt Willey, Andy Altmann and Cartoon Saloon. Anna Kealey concludes her coverage of the Dublin Offset conference

The closing day of Offset’s presentations were full of colour and comedy, writes Anna Kealey.

Illustrator Andrew Rae brightened up the morning by showing his vibrant notebooks and discussing his newest publication Moonhead and the Music Machine.

Andrew Rae, Moonhead and the Music Machine, Nobrow, £15.99.
Top: Andy Altmann, Why Not Associates. Photo: Pam Bowman.


As in previous days, there were strong Irish delegates on the main stage, starting with photographer Matthew Thompson who was followed by art director Sue Murphy. (See ‘Ready, Offset, Go!’ on the Eye blog.)

Matthew Thompson’s ‘Conversations About Culture’ installation in Temple Bar, Dublin.


Much of Thompson’s photography is connected to the island – Ireland’s National College of College of Art and Aer Lingus are two of his biggest clients. Thompson gave a thoughtful and considered presentation, particularly when speaking about his book project Conversations About Culture, for which he travelled around Ireland capturing people’s reactions to proposed cuts to the arts. He asked them how best to represent the nation’s psyche during the week of the Irish bailout. The result was an understated portrait of Ireland during a difficult period in our history.

Spread from Conversations About Culture. Photography: Matthew Thompson. Design: Brighten the Corners. Production: Boz Temple-Morris.


Sue Murphy talked about her short but fruitful career in such a heartfelt and intimate way that it felt more like a peek into her diary than a conference presentation. Murphy began by candidly discussing feeling uninspired, overworked and having impossibly high standards, but she punctuated these serious subjects with self-effacing humor and hilarious, flashing GIFs. Her impressive work included a Women in Technology campaign and the cooking app Chef Watson, both for IBM. For ChefWatson, Murphy worked with Leta Sobierajski to create a series of surreal, saturated images of food to represent the quirky food concoctions that the app suggests.

Art directed by Sue Murphy (Ogilvy) for IBM’s Chef Watson app. Set design: Leta Sobierajski.


The Independent. Redesign: Matt Willey. Designers from the in-house team: Dan Barber, Stephen Petch, Gordon Smith, Nick Donaldson. Photo editors: Sophie Batterbury, Lee Martin. Graphics: Cath Levett, John Bradley, Rob Brooks, John Papasian.


Matt Willey began his presentation by declaring himself an ‘accidental – and very lucky – graphic designer’. Whatever the reason for his ‘accidental’ career, the world of editorial design is certainly much better for it. Willey, now at the New York Times, led the audience through his elegant editorial work, including Port magazine, before focusing on his redesign of The Independent. It was a dream presentation for print design purists as Willey spoke about bespoke font systems, grids and legibility. (See ‘Port of entry’ on the Eye blog.)

Type design by Henrik Kubel, A2-Type, for The Independent.


The Comedy Carpet, a collaboration between Gordon Young and Why Not Associates.


Andy Altmann provided one of the conference highlights. He discussed the early days of Why Not Associates, including some striking avant-garde designs for Next (a far cry from the retailer’s more generic campaigns today). Altmann stressed the analogue methods used to produce the images and reminded the young audience that the studio didn’t have access to Photoshop then. This tied with one of the most common themes of the conference – practitioners such as Chrissie Macdonald and Snask opt for hand-crafted and analogue processes even when using Photoshop could have saved time.

He continued by discussing the Comedy Carpet, a grandiose concrete installation of typographic brilliance for artist Gordon Young in Blackpool (see ‘Gag pile’ on the Eye blog). Altmann’s relaxed speaking style became a lot more animated as he spoke about the project – from the in-depth research phase to the thousands of individual concrete letters that were painstakingly arranged by the sea. He finished with a hilarious behind-the-scenes video set to the Benny Hill theme tune.

The Comedy Carpet by Gordon Young and Why Not Associates.


The comedy theme continued with a presentation by Pentagram partner Emily Oberman. Unlike other conference speakers who said that they simply ‘fell into graphic design’, Oberman professed that her career trajectory into design was conversely very purposeful. And instead of trying to cram an entire retrospective into her one-hour slot, Oberman opted to have one clear thread that anchored her presentation and took the theme of the ten lessons she has learned from working with her longest running client – American comedy show Saturday Night Live (SNL).

While SNL was the focus, Oberman also incorporated her identity and app design for the podcast On Being and the memorable adhoc branding campaign that launched Jane magazine. (See ‘Back after these messages: the No. 17 show’ in Eye 39.) Oberman has an infectious youthful attitude energy; an energy that likely came in handy while designing the identity for the UN’s Ebola response campaign in just 37 hours.

Cartoon Saloon. Photograph by Anna Kealey.


Concept art for Song of the Sea. Underwater rough layouts by Tomm Moore and character designs by Tomm Moore and Marie Thorhauge. Artwork by art director Adrien Merigeau.


Closing the conference was the fast-talking Irish pair Tomm Moore and Paul Young from Cartoon Saloon. Through their dazzling, painstaking work for films The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, they illustrated the immense patience it takes to create an animated feature. When Moore began working on Song of the Sea, he took inspiration for the character of Ben from his ten-year-old son. By the movie premiered his son was nineteen.

The overarching theme of the Offset conference was dedication – Cartoon Saloon’s nine-year journey to make Song of The Sea, Annie Atkins’s meticulous props and Chrissie Macdonald’s crafted set designs. The Offset conference is also a testament to the dedication of the staff and volunteers: 2015 was the first year that Offset were able to confirm there would be a conference the following year. See you in 2016.

The Secret of Kells. Director: Tomm Moore. Screenplay: Fabrice Ziolkowski. Art Director: Ross Stewart. Storyboard: Rémi Chayé, Tomm Moore , Nora Twomey. Character design: Tomm Moore, Barry Reynolds. Original music: Bruno Coulais.

Read ‘Offset 2014: day two’, ‘Offset 2015: day one’ and ‘Ready, Offset, go!’ on the Eye blog.

Anna Kealey, design educator at University of the Arts London and the University of Gastronomic Sciences, Italy

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.