If you only ever did client work, you might go a little crazy. So it’s a wise employer that lets its designers blow off a little creative steam in the form of an occasional side project.
These might not make a direct contribution to the bottom line. But getting together as a team and working on a collective passion project can generate untold benefits in the long term.
Here, we share some of the best agency side projects we’ve heard about this year. Meanwhile, if your company has a side project you think we should hear about, let us know via Twitter (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).
01. Conran Design Group: May the Fourth fun
Conran Design Group (opens in new tab) is an award-winning design agency in London, UK, that’s been around for more than 60 years. It places high importance on projects that sit outside of mainstream client work, and actively seeks out competitions, pro bono work and cultural events to take part in throughout the year.
Tapping into cultural events is important to the agency, so this year it targeted Star Wars Day, an unofficial celebration that takes place across social media every May the 4th (it’s of course a pun on the line in the movie, ‘May the force be with you’).
More and more businesses are getting on board with this social media phenomenon. So this year Conran Design Group joined in the fun by creating six images of Star Wars characters taken from everyday items found in its new King’s Cross offices.
Exploiting an internet meme to push a company is a tricky thing to pull off, and runs the risk of either enraging social media users (by being too overtly commercial) or failing to promote your brand (by being too subtle).
This clever campaign hit all the right notes, by not taking itself too seriously while subtly promoting the agency in a way that delighted rather than deterred future clients.
02. Bozboz: Events and exhibition space
Bozboz (opens in new tab) is an independent digital and design agency based in Brighton, UK. Founded in 2007, its designers are passionate about music and culture. So as an adjunct to its client work the company has launched its own creative space, where it hosts exhibitions from top talent in the contemporary art world.
“When we searching for a new agency building, we actively sought out interesting and creative spaces that were inspirational and evocative to be in,” explains Bozboz’s Kitty Hennessy.
“The space lends itself so well to alternative uses: exhibitions, launches, private parties. And it means our clients can take advantage of it too.
“Mike Hollingbery, our founder, already had an extensive private collection of contemporary and urban art and it felt like an awesome fit. Clients and staff alike walk through the gallery to get to the main agency premises, so it's almost a visual intro to what Bozboz is all about.
"Recently the space has been home to Mal-One and Mau Mau, as well as Chelone Wolf, Richard Martin and Stephen Bunting, who featured in the Nu:Blood show.”
“In terms of working together, the creative space is very much a separate entity and we host independent exhibitions that are not directly connected to Bozboz,” she explains.
“But we try very hard to only show work that upholds our values and creativity. In a society where work life and play often collide, and no-one ever really switches off, we're proud to have turned that into a pretty major plus.”
03. Carter Wong: Bespoke designer notebooks
Carter Wong (opens in new tab) is a independent, multi-disciplinary London, UK, design agency founded in 1984. Every year, it partners with printers Boss Print (opens in new tab) to create a new and unique notebook. The idea is to show off both Carter Wong’s design smarts and Boss Print’s printing prowess to clients and partners.
The emphasis here is firmly on the quirky side of creative. So Volume 1, entitled Found Fonts, featured a selection of 3D letterforms that the Carter Wong team collected on their travels.
Volume 2, A Cut Above, includes a collection of beautiful razor blade wrappers discovered in a Roman flea market in 1993.
And Volume 3, Heidelberg Ephemera, incorporates a series of tickets, wrappers, tags and receipts that document a year that a young woman spent in Germany in the mid-1960s.
We can’t actually show you the 2017 notebooks yet, as they won’t be released until November, but Carter Wong has shared the two sneak peeks above, to show you just how cool the final product promises to be...
04. Superimpose Studio: Post-truth showcase
Superimpose (opens in new tab) is a “next-generation creative studio” based in Shoreditch, East London. Alongside its everyday work with clients including Adidas and Hermes, it also has a small internal division called Services Unknown (opens in new tab).
This gives the team an opportunity to take ideas that clients didn’t buy into and develop them for itself. The very latest project out of the division is Perspectives, a visual exploration into the polarity between perceived truths and factual evidence (or the ‘fake news’ controversy, as it’s known to most of us).
Opening tonight (October 18 at 7.30pm, UK time), at The 100 Room on the rooftop of London’s Ace Hotel (opens in new tab), the showcase spans various forms of art and media, from graphics to fabrics, from animation to photography and sound.
The aim is to champion the studio’s belief in honesty and imagination as creators and contributors to the evolution of visual culture.
05. Snask: Rock band
Snask (opens in new tab) is a Stockholm-based creative agency with a rock ‘n’ roll attitude and numerous side projects, not least its own heavy rock band, VÄG (opens in new tab).
The quirky agency gives regular presentations to design conferences around the world, and VÄG plays an integral part in the experience. If there’s an afterparty, the band plays that too. And as anyone who experienced Snask's keynote to Bristol’s Something Good (opens in new tab) will attest, it’s quite an experience, and certainly unlike anything else you’re likely to witness at a design event.
As to the band’s origins, Snask explains on its website (opens in new tab) that: “The singer in a rock band sold his band to Snask at 04.30 at an afterparty for $3,000 with the condition that we could change the band name as well as their style of music. The day after the singer changed his mind but we had his signature in blood. But just to be fair we decided to start a record label (Snask Recordings) and sign them with the same conditions.
“We changed their name to Road and their style of music to 70’s psychedelic rockn’roll. We then contracted one of Sweden’s best producers, Johannes Berglund, who changed them into 'singing' in Swedish. So we just translated the name to Swedish, which becomes VÄG (Road). No, we never had any thought that it is short for vagina to the rest of the world.”
So now you know.