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OFFF 2014: creative mayhem in Barcelona

OFFF 2014: where do we start? World-class speakers, mind-blowing work, live art, installations, workshops, old and new friends, standing ovations, sun cream, cerveza and a tsunami of inspiration soaked up by 3,000 attendees from across the globe.

If it sounds chaotic, it's because it was.

Last week, Computer Arts went global. Well, European, at any rate. With two of the year's biggest conferences happening at the same time, the team split up: editor Nick Carson and designer Rich Carter tackled TYPO Berlin, while deputy editor Julia Sagar and art editor Jo Gulliver took on OFFF Barcelona for the third year running.

Inspiration vs replication

Amid the creative mayhem spilling out of Barcelona's cavernous Dissney Hub building, one theme to emerge during the three-day design fiesta was the importance of finding your own creative process. British designer Kate Moross put a lively spin on the idea during an entertaining, occasionally provocative Sunday morning session when she described her feelings towards visual microblogging platforms and 'convenience' inspiration.

"Pinterest and Tumblr are ready to destroy our creativity," she stated, highlighting the danger of taking inspiration from a single image, shown out of context with no explanation of the process behind it. New work inspired by flat influences like these, she argued, will always lack substance.

"'Inspiration' is the worst thing in the world," she continued, pointing out the semantic limitations in describing "something so amazing". Instead, she suggested, it's pizza that fuels creatives through long nights on big projects: "I had it tattooed on my arm, so I never forget my source of 'inspiration'," she told a laughing audience.

Moross closed with a rousing call to arms to the packed audience of creatives: "We sometimes call ourselves 'Out of Our Depth' studio… Don't be lazy. There's no excuse."

Technological singularity

Later that afternoon, Dutch film production company PostPanic provided a more dramatic metaphor for the dangers of copying other creatives' work instead of developing your own process. The team talked about Sundays, a Mischa Rozema-directed feature film set 50,000 years in the future, where small misakes in human civilisation have been grotesquely magnified over time.

As the teaser explains: "It's a copy of the world today, as we know it now, but we place it in the future. But in every copy there's tiny mistakes. And tiny mistakes grow bigger over time."

For New York-based graphic designer, illustrator and art director Lotta Nieminen, developing her own creative process took time and dedication. The 2010 ADC Young Gun had to reignite a sense of purpose in her work, which meant learning how to enjoy the journey and welcome the challenges.

"There are always going to be creative blocks and sometimes they last longer than you'd hope, but now I've found a way to get round them. Refusing to embrace the shitty days only makes you hate your work. They're part of the creative process," she explained.

"When I wasn't trying to control the work too much - and let the work lead me - a lot of problems started solving themselves," she added, explaining that discomfort in the creative process is what drives her to produce better work.

Lotta Nieminen, Travel Happy illustration

Lotta Nieminen, Travel Happy illustration

Finding the hidden gem

Mucho touched on a similar theme during a stand-out talk on the opening day of OFFF 2014, when the speakers recalled Spanish band Kostrok commissioning the agency to create their new identity.

"Well, I'm sure you guys are going to find the hidden present," said one of the two band members, referencing Mucho's mantra and inadvertently raising the pressure of the brief.

This search for the 'hidden present' has lead Mucho to create some of its greatest work. In the case of Kostrok, the team crafted a powerful identity system after suddenly "noticing" the symmetry of the word.

Mucho for Kostrok

Mucho for Kostrok

To highlight the band's Spanish roots, Mucho combined 19th century Hispanic engravings with a contemporary graphic treatment, creating a stunning visual language that works across both print and motion - and impressed the OFFF audience.

Sometimes, you'll find the hidden present through "a serendipitous input; something that just lands on your desk and influences a job" - as Irish illustrator Steve Simpson explained in point three of his 'great project theory' on the Open Roots stage.

Hvass&Hannibal echoed the idea, talking about how unexpected torrential rain transformed their Magic Chairs album artwork. "What we thought had ruined the whole project turned out to be a gift," they said.



As most speakers agreed at OFFF 2014, though, it all starts with an idea. "Don't be afraid to make something so bad it makes people want to cry," said Candian designer Robert L Peters. "My challenge to you is to open up your thinking."

For a full event report from OFFF 2014, don't miss Computer Arts issue 229, on sale 29 May.

Bartholot at OFFF 2014

Berlin-based visual artist Bartholot explained how he found his way into photographic illustration. "For the first time in my life I forgot about time when I was working, and I thought this could be something!"

Creme de la Creme, Bartholot

Creme de la Creme, a photographic illustration by Bartholot

Mucho for Nitsa

Mucho walking through the creative process of their Kostrok identity

Mucho for Nitsa

Mucho created a rotating wooden surface that turned paper in a silkscreen machine to produce 150 unique LSD-inspired posters for iconic Barcelona club Nitsa. "Everything we do as designers has to have an idea, not just look nice. But it must look nice."

"This is the legend Arnold Schwarzenegger carrying the Olympic torch - and he's waring a scarf with my typeface Neo Sans all over it." Typeface designer Seb Lester received a standing ovation after his Thursday talk on the main stage at OFFF 2014

"This is the legend Arnold Schwarzenegger carrying the Olympic torch - and he's waring a scarf with my typeface Neo Sans all over it." Typeface designer Seb Lester received a standing ovation after his Thursday talk on the main stage at OFFF 2014

Oliver Jeffers

Oliver Jeffers was a festival highlight for the Computer Arts team. "Everything starts with an idea," he said, "good or bad."

Oliver Jeffers, Lost and Found

"People assume that I try to figure out what goes on in a kid's head and try to assimilate it with what goes on in the world out there," said Jeffers. "Truth is, I don't worry about the type of stories I think children want to hear. I think about the stories I want to hear." 

Craig & Karl at OFFF 2014

"We're like cats to a laser beam with colour. We don't know why we like it so much, but we do." Craig & Karl on the Open Roots stage


What do you do when you're not allowed to show a phone commercial at a design conference? Manvsmachine opted for performance art...


A still showing Manvsmachine working some split-screen magic on a 4seven ident

ManvsMachine worked alongside 4creative to create an on-screen identity for 4seven

ManvsMachine worked alongside 4creative to create an on-screen identity for 4seven

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Julia Sagar
Julia Sagar

Julia is editor-in-chief, retail at Future Ltd, where she works in e-commerce across a number of consumer lifestyle brands. A former editor of design website Creative Bloq, she’s also worked on a variety of print titles, and was part of the team that launched consumer tech website TechRadar. She's been writing about art, design and technology for over 15 years.