OFFSET 2014: design legends and dancing shoes

Milton Glaser and Neville Brody are speaking, "but it's the unknown artist on the small stage at 11am who changes your life forever". Why Ireland's biggest design conference is like a music festival.

As the countdown to OFFSET 2014 continues, Computer Arts deputy editor Julia Sagar caught up with co-founder Bren Byrne to find out what's in store for attendees this year.

The three-day event kicks off on 21 March, but there's still time to grab early bird tickets to Dublin's favourite design conference – and one of the most exciting creative events in Europe…

We can't wait for OFFSET! What can we expect from you guys this year?

Bren Byrne: Glad to hear you're excited about our return – looking forward to hanging out with you guys. We always like to add another layer of inspiration and fun each year, and this year is no different with the introduction of a third room in association with le Cool Dublin.

The focus for this room will be on the wider creative scene in Dublin, such as the upsurge in interesting retail spaces, galleries and restaurant experiences, and on the people behind them.

We also have a big city-wide creative project happening in the lead up to OFFSET in association with Absolut, and will have some nice bits and pieces in this year's festival tote bag!

We're also filming a very special interview between Milton Glaser and Steve Heller in NYC to be screened exclusively at OFFSET 2014. That's a major departure for us, as Milton won't actually be there in person, but he's such an inspirational figure to all of us that we felt it was really important to include him as part of our story if we could.

For the Friday night we have a huge party planned, which will be something special. Bring your dancing shoes!

We heard that you have some exciting new additions to an already stellar lineup of speakers . Can you tell us more?

We're delighted to confirm the addition of our long-time pal Jon Burgerman to our lineup. Jon has been part of what we do since we started organising creative events 10 years ago. We even art-directed his book 'Pens Are My Friends', but amazingly this will be his first appearance at OFFSET.

Other names added recently are Mike Perry, another fantastic artist who we've been fans of for years. Sarah Illenberger was part of our lineup for OFFSET 2013 but unfortunately fell ill in the days leading up to the event, so we're delighted to confirm she is fit and healthy and coming to Dublin in March to discuss her surreal and inventive work.

Also, we're very excited about the addition of Marian Bantjes to the main stage. Expect the usual inspiring presentations, personal and professional anecdotes, and incredibly generous sharing of tools to make us all better at what we do and who we are.

Is there anyone else on the cards you can spill the beans on? Any last-minute additions coming up?

We're almost ready to confirm a leading light from the VFX world. All I can say is that he spent last year training a horse to dance!

Bjorn Lie, Kellie Strom and Andrew Rae will be joining Sam from No Brow in our second room for three slots over the weekend, to tell the No Brow story and much more besides.

We always have a couple of invites out there floating about that we hope will bear fruit and add some more last-minute magic to the event. Stayed tuned!

How has OFFSET evolved since it started in 2009?

When OFFSET launched, we had no idea if it would work. We operated then, as now, without any title sponsor and have always invested our own time and money into delivering the event, totally relying on creating an event people would want to buy tickets for.

In many ways, the first two years were labours of love. We felt there was a real need for what we were providing, particularly in Ireland. The fact that we have grown from 450 people the first year to 2,000 last year, and with people coming from the US, Canada, Australia, parts of Asia and all over Europe, the UK and of course Ireland, has been incredibly humbling.

It's become a vital part of the calendar here, as well as internationally, and has helped transform the creative ambitions of so many who attend. We liken it to a music festival: you buy your ticket because of the well-known names on the lineup, but it's the artist you have never heard of on the small stage at 11am on a Sunday that changes your life forever.

Do you have any standout moments from OFFSET over the last few years?

Every year there always seems to be at least one moment – if not two or three or four – that defines exactly what the event means to me and reflects what we hope to achieve by putting OFFSET on in the first place. OFFSET 2009 was sitting beside Sir Peter Blake in the front row as we both took notes and reveled in the majesty of Massimo Vignelli.

OFFSET 2010, without a moment of hesitation, was holding aloft the arm of George Lois after his barnstorming presentation closing the Saturday lineup. 2,000 people, a standing ovation and probably the greatest I've ever felt at OFFSET. Getting goosebumps now even just thinking about it. A true legend and a huge inspirational moment for all the team and everyone who witnessed it.

OFFSET2012: being called from the stage with the news that my girlfriend was in the hospital and might be having our baby. YIKES! She didn't though and we were both back within a few hours. So, officially, I will pick watching the astoundingly beautiful showreel from Kyle Cooper. Incredible skill, emotion and vision. Breathtaking.

Last year was just full of great moments. Check out the overview film we made:

As I'm distilling it to just one, I'll choose being in the main auditorium for JR's talk. You could physically feel the effect it was having on the audience. There were a good few tears by the end. The scale and impact of his work married with such intimate beauty knocked everyone sideways.

How do you select speakers? What are you looking for? And is it easy to persuade people to come and talk?

The first thing we do is consult The List. This is a long list we compiled back in 2008 in the build up to our first OFFSET. It's our dream list of everyone we wanted to invite, meet and hang out with.

As the years go by and events pass we update The List to remove those who have come, and add new names of those creatives that are currently blowing us away.

Myself, Richard and Peter have a wide variety of interests from the full spectrum of the creative, commercial arts and we want the lineup to reflect that. We want honest, talented, eager people to speak at our events and we want people who we hope will be fun to be around.

We aren't interested in massaging egos. We don't have a green room, our speakers watch from the main auditorium, hang about in the foyer and come to the pub and the parties.

We have a way of operating that makes people very comfortable at our events. We treat everyone like friends and they love the OFFSET experience from first contact to building solid relationships over the years.

Dublin is an easy sell to our speakers too. One of the best things about having an Irish population spread in the millions across the world is that practically everyone knows someone from Dublin and has heard such great things about visiting it. Also, our previous speakers are incredible ambassadors for us.

How does OFFSET differ from other creative conferences and festivals? What sets it apart? And why Dublin?

The 'Why Dublin?' is probably easier to answer. We live and work here. We had been putting on speaking events and producing an online magazine for five or six years before OFFSET started, as we worked as creative directors at agencies, in Richard and Peter's cases, and as an illustrator in mine.

We made a decision, quite naturally, that OFFSET should reflect our interests – both professional and personal – in terms of speaker choice, but also that how we run it and the experience that both the speakers and audience must have should reflect our personalities. So the whole thing is like a mirror of us, and hopefully by keeping it honest in that way it makes it unique.

We're proud that our stage hosts octogenarian design legends, and illustrators and designers who are breaking into their careers. The mix is intoxicating.

And finally, tell us something we don't know...

I'm due another baby just after OFFSET, did you know that?

Words: Julia Sagar

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