No limits design

Over the last few years, creative minds have increasingly needed to think ahead of the pack. Getting seen and being remembered when one and all have online portfolios rich with talent is difficult at best. Standing out from the crowd may require more than flair, hard work and good luck.

However, new opportunities beyond print and web are emerging each day as designers and those responsible for commissioning them look for new initiatives and new ways of working and collaborating. Less traditional projects, including installations, interior design and the use of new and unusual materials, has attracted attention and significantly raised the profile of many of those involved.

Recent high-profile campaigns from Volkswagen, adidas and Diesel have all caught the eye. Equally, self-initiated personal projects have proved to be a productive means of getting seen and raising profiles. McFaul, a man with an octopus-like ability to multi-task projects, clearly sees a trend developing: "They are just another output; loads of 'alternative' stuff is cropping up now."

A winning combination
The combination of big business and non-conventional creativity is evidently proving a winner. This summer, the Berlin office of TBWA\ Germany produced a stunning fresco for sports giant adidas as Germany hosted the World Cup. The 9,000 sq ft artwork engulfed the main lobby of Cologne central train station. The Michelangelo Sistine Chapel homage was created using the talents of illustrator Felix Reidenbach, taking him almost 40 days to complete - approximately four days per figure. A 65-metre wide illustrated version of German goalkeeper Oliver Kahn jumping across a four-lane Autobahn at Munich airport also proved to be a major attraction.

Similarly impressive is Project Fox, backed by German car manufacturer Volkswagen, which last year combined the talents of 21 international graphic designers, urban artists and illustrators, let loose on 61 rooms of a hotel in Copenhagen, Denmark. Together they transformed a former drab hostel into the talk of the town, full of colour and invention.

The project proved to be an effective non-traditional form of advertising for the European launch of Volkswagen's new budget Fox car. The makeover was not only an artistic success, but is now credited for boosting tourism in the surrounding Jarmers Plads district, where Hotel Fox continues to run as a family-owned business.

Volkswagen gained a lot of credibility as well as column inches outside of the traditional auto press as a result, simply by providing somewhere for the weary journalists invited to the launch to temporarily lay their head. Neasden Control Center, Rinzen, WK-Interact, Hort and Container were just some of the respected names that took part. Because many of the designers were working on the project at the same time, motivation was heightened, new collaborations and friendships formed, and skills were exchanged. So far the project has expanded to include Club Fox and Studio Fox, further nurturing new talent with Volkswagen's support.

For Nicola Carter and Luise Vormittag of Container, the experience proved an outstanding success. The pair were responsible for the design of four lush hotel rooms, as well as a lovingly decorated Volkswagen 'artcar'. Several similar unconventional projects, including store window displays, interior murals and installations, have continued to inspire and set new challenges. "Every time we tackle unknown areas, we have to work on unknown surfaces, deal with lighting, fabrics, durable printing, three-dimensional thinking... almost every job brings a new challenge," says Vormittag.

Asked to give examples of these challenges, Vormittag reels off an impressive list of the skills and temperaments needed to tackle non-traditional commissions. "Wallpapering in small enclosed hot areas, cutting carpets into swirly shapes, flocking, attaching a three-metre print to a wall, staying awake at 3am painting in a nightclub, handling a drunken audience while live painting, who all suddenly believe they can paint too, turning hubcaps into gold, getting any passer-by to help when you run out of time when working on a public art piece, smuggling flammable spray cans on to a plane and, most importantly, staying very calm in the face of adversity."

A unique challenge
For the designers, the challenges offered by projects like this are entirely positive. You have to learn how to think on your feet and pick up new skills quickly. You also have to deal with clients face-to-face, which can be daunting, but very rewarding.

Big projects can mean big budgets, so the rewards can be financial, too. Nick Hayes of Identikal has been involved in several such projects, including a prestigious Ted Baker storefront and interior graphic work for a flagship Los Angeles store. "I think the best aspect of non-traditional work is that you are entering foreign ground. Where you are so used to working in a specific way from day to day, these projects really do break up the typical workflow and bring a lot of positive problems to what you are normally used to. We tend to enjoy these projects more than our usual work, so we jump at the chance to get them."

Jeremyville is another whose work continues to evolve after undertaking several recent non-traditional projects, adding to his amazing output of illustrations, animations, toys, T-shirts and skateboard designs. "I was asked by Bobby Luo of the Butter Factory to create a ten-metre wall design for his new nightclub in Singapore," he says. The venue invites graphic designers, artists, illustrators and cartoonists to use the club as a 'blank canvas', attracting interest from both local and international creative talent.

"It's also home to the Design Warriors concept, large cut-out characters by Gary Baseman, Superdeux, Yok, Jon Burgerman, :Phunk Studio, myself and some of the best character designers in the world," he continues. He had seen previous Bobby Luo club designs for Cocco Latte, featuring :Phunk Studio, in Singapore, so knew he'd do a great job. Fortunately for Jeremyville, the club interior did not involve him getting down with brush and paint between drunken revellers. "I sent Bobby the files via email, and he outputted them and hung the panels."

Jon Burgerman, like Jeremyville, has been involved with several unique projects, including filling a room in Hotel Sixty, Italy, with his distinctive drawings. Sometimes the results can be less structured than more traditional commissions. "Generally I don't plan out my wall drawing pieces, I just make them up as I go along, so this can be problematic when people want to know exactly what I'm going to do," he admits. "They don't realise I don't know what I'm going to do either."

Being aware of your surroundings also plays a factor, a consideration that might not arise when working traditionally from studio or home. "When working among other people I guess you need to be a bit more aware of your environment and those around you," says Burgerman. "I can't work in my underwear, for example, like I might do when I'm alone!"

Applying ideas
Design duo Tado has decorated Smart cars in Taiwan as well as trainers for adidas. However, the pair see little difference between traditional and non-traditional work. "It's just the same as any other design brief really. We certainly don't treat customising a car any differently to creating a magazine cover. Obviously there are technical factors to bear in mind for both projects, but the basic thinking is exactly the same. It's just a case of applying your idea to the case in hand." Nick Hayes adds, "I think the basic creative process that you use in your everyday work can be easily applied to pretty much any project you get, so if you stick to what you know, you can't really go wrong."

Hoss Gifford, who recently reaffirmed the need for public art with an evocative display inside passenger lifts in London's famous Great Ormond Street Hospital, feels the need to treat non-traditional commissions differently. "The route I've used to win non-traditional briefs is to tell people that I'm an artist, where in the past I'd have told them I'm a designer. To me, it makes no difference to the way I approach a project, but clients tend to behave quite differently, with designers' clients looking to play more of a part in developing look and feel," he says.

"The flipside of this," Hoss continues, "is that artists' clients are more often made up of committees of people with vastly different aspirations, agendas and tastes. This leads to the initial hurdles being harder for artists to leap, with the reward of more creative freedom further down the line."

Other issues can arise when you venture beyond the relative safety of your computer. "One of the major problems is that you're working closely with a client who doesn't know the creative process you use, so it really is a steep learning curve for both us and the client," says Hayes. Setting realistic budgets can also be a concern, especially as some clients may treat a project as a way for you to promote your own work.

Jon Burgerman suggests that, like any other job, you should always calculate the costs and not be distracted by the perceived glamour. "For many non-traditional jobs, people seem to have a very set budget. They want to know what you can do for X-amount of money. I work out how much time that buys and then what I can do in that time frame."

"We (Identikal) tend to invoice exactly the same way as we do all our clients," says Hayes. "Either we negotiate a set budget for the work as a whole, or we charge by the day. This keeps it simple for the client and gives them peace of mind."

Stick to your skills
Hoss Gifford highlights another potential problem that can easily expose your creative weaknesses. "Don't take on a non-traditional project that doesn't rely on at least some of your existing core skills. That said, this is a fantastic way to broaden your skill set," he says. "Working on installations and video projects has given me the opportunity to learn how to create broadcast animations in Maya, an objective I've had for a while. The key is to find a balance between using existing skills and being able to learn something new on every project."

Not all non-traditional projects need to originate as traditional paid commissions, of course. Vormittag believes self-initiated projects can be a wonderful way of getting noticed and also of attracting potential investment and real commissions from clients in the future. "Start by doing your own self-motivated and selffi nanced projects," she says. "If you only ever do editorial work, no client will approach you and ask you to paint a car, for example. If you build up a portfolio of work that you enjoy doing most and self-promote through exhibitions and mailouts, client work is sure to follow."

Tado also believes non-traditional opportunities are a good way to promote personal projects. "We've found that we can often tie-in our own projects with commercial stuff. Non-traditional projects are often a huge means of self promotion."

A job less ordinary
McFaul agrees that self-initiated and out-of-the-ordinary work tends to attract interest. "We're about to decorate the walls of a boutique hotel in Liverpool, in a subtle way, with linear varnish over white walls," he reveals. "It all stems from the portfolio we made. It had an embossed leather cover and the inside had a design created in linear black gloss over black. It gets lots of attention."

Jon Burgerman agrees: "They're as good at promoting your work as other projects, if not better due to their unusual nature. It's not every day you get to draw all over the walls of a hotel, gallery, house, etc."

Hoss Gifford offers one last word of advice. "If there's an area you'd like to work in that is new to you, then you need to work for the one client that will commission you - yourself. Personal work is essential here, achieving two main objectives. Firstly it enables you to build any new skills required, and secondly it puts your dream project into your portfolio so that your dream client can see it and say, 'I want one of those'."

Planning an unusual project? Follow these ten tips and ensure it goes without a hitch

1: Collaborate
Non-conventional creative projects can require many hands to get the job done, so combine your skills with like-minded individuals. Be prepared to muck in - installations require planning, good logistics and a fair amount of box shifting, so get everyone involved in some way or another.

2: Get noticed: plan ahead
Don't leave everything to the last minute. Send out press releases, set up websites, blog, email, call people, fly post, network and arrange a launch party. Be aware of publishing deadlines when submitting stories, especially to the creative press, and don't ignore smaller local press and publicity.

3: Seek funding
Unusual projects can and will attract publicity, so seek funding and sponsorship. Business likes to be associated with creativity, while grants may be available both locally and from central government. Seek funding ideas from those you admire, and talk to those who have already promoted successful, non-traditional projects.

4: Originality counts
Your first thought may be your best, but check your brilliant idea isn't the result of one too many after a pub brainstorming session. If you really want to stand out from the crowd, then avoid the over-obvious options for non-traditional art, such as T-shirts, trainers and toys. They may look cute, but will they actually get you noticed?

5: Know your own strengths
Throwing yourself into new projects will reap rewards, but don't stretch your talent into new areas where you may come unstuck. Your failings while you struggle with a new project may be exposed to a wider audience than you had hoped, so do what you do well - only that much bigger and better.

6: Keep a tight budget
Budgets can soon spiral when you step out of the relative comfort of your studio and away from your computer monitor, so try and anticip ate those little extras before you're confronted with a nasty bill. Calculate your costs down to the last penny and whenever possible tr y to call in favours for free.

7: Work to a brief and deadline
Cramming as many creative minds as you can into one project might work a treat, but ensure that chaos doesn't prevail by working to some sort of brief and deadline. Themes give meaning and inspiration, so try and set some common ground.

8: Bend the rules to fit the brief
As Hoss Gifford suggests, "Don't be afraid to make up your job title to fit the brief better. Printing up a batch of business cards with 'artist' under your name instead of 'designer' might be all it takes to get you that installation project you've fancied having a bash at."

9: Research the venue you plan to use
Found a venue? Then check it's safe and secure to display and possibly store your creative endeavours . You don't want your hard work and that of others damaged, lost, stolen or mistaken as rubbish by the cleaner. You should also take into consideration how convenient a venue it is to get to.

10: Unravel red tape
Be aware that anything non-digital you produce, display or sell may require the approval of local authorities, trading standards, health and safety and even insurance to protect you and the safety of the public. Check your chosen venue is fully covered so you don't come unstuck by the law after you've finished all your hard work.

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