Project diary: machine dreams

Kjell Ekhorn

The Only Connect Festival of Sound is an annual celebration of contemporary music that made its debut in Oslo last year. We were asked by promoter nyMusikk to establish the festival’s identity and promotional material, including posters, a programme and a website. nyMusikk was evidently pleased with what we had done because they asked us to create a whole new corporate identity for them, which was introduced earlier this year. They also asked us to design the materials for the 2013 Only Connect festival, which involved creating an events programme, posters, press ads and an update of the website we’d designed the year before.

One of the problems with this kind of project is the limited time that you have between getting the information you need about the event and the client wanting to send out the first press ads. We knew the festival’s title – Machine Dreams – but we weren’t sure how the title was going to influence the design direction.

Because of the time restraints, nyMusikk gave us the option of simply reusing the design formula we’d created for the 2012 festival, but that didn’t strike us as a terribly rewarding way to approach the project. Financially it would have made sense, but creatively it’s just not the way we do things.

We knew we wanted to use the same logotype we had created for the first Only Connect festival, which was called A Tonal View of Times Tomorrow. We also wanted to keep the spirit of the aesthetic alive by using the same key text typeface.

However we were convinced we had to find a way to express the ‘Machine Dreams’ title in a way that was distinct from the previous year’s event. As the deadline for the first press ads was rapidly approaching, we deliberately kept their design simple, so leaving the door open for us to develop the concept.

Jon Forss

As the main expressive element of the 2012 identity had been a custom typeface, we thought the same approach might work again for the 2013 festival version. We already had a custom typeface we’d used on another nyMusikk project that had still to find a proper home, and thought the 2013 festival materials would be perfect for it. However, we had some problems making the typeface work effectively and quickly realised that we needed to try something different.

As information started coming in about events at the festival we got a better idea about the kind of role machines would play at the event. That’s when the idea of a robot mascot struck us.

We already had an abandoned idea featuring masks for a music packaging project we’d worked on previously and thought it could be adapted and developed into a new set of robot faces that would suit the Machine Dreams theme. A few of the elements from the original masks made it into the final version, but we pretty much started from scratch.

At the same time as we were developing the robot faces we were also working on the design for the festival programme, which had to be sent to the client for proofing. The robot faces were kept out of the programme so as not to hold up the process of proofreading and production. This ultimately led us to the idea of separating the face images from the main text of the programme, and using two different booklets bound together as one.

Kjell Ekhorn

In the end, nyMusikk was presented with a graphic language that went far beyond its expectations, fuelling its own excitement about the festival. Abandoning last year’s visual style in favour of something more illustrative might have been a risky strategy, but in the end everyone seemed very happy that we did.

From our point of view, the real achievement lies in getting all the different parts together and at the same time managing to reassure the client that what they would be getting would be worth the wait. By not giving in to the natural pressure to show the client a full overview of what the festival graphics would look like before they were completely solved, we gave ourselves enough room to work the faces into their finished form.

Showing too much, too soon increases the chance of solidifying a graphic language at too early a stage. Holding back part of the visual impact obviously demands more from the client, so all credit must go to nyMusikk for not responding with more than a few nervous phone calls asking if the one-colour grey programme they were proofreading really was going to be this year’s festival graphics.

Senior staff at nyMusikk said the response to the branding during and after the festival had been overwhelmingly positive. nyMusikk caters in part to an audience that isn’t necessarily very accustomed to overtly expressive graphics on its concert programmes, and our hope is that it’s seen as a refreshing change to the more low-key approach more often associated with promotional materials for highbrow arts and culture.

The only negative feedback that nyMusikk received was that festival-goers seemed reluctant to pick up the programme, as they assumed they’d have to pay for such handsome-looking publications – which says a lot about the current expectations of festival-goers. It also said it regretted not printing more of the robot booklets to use as flyers in cafes and bars. There’s always next year.

With only three weeks from concept to completion, explains Kjell Ekhorn, Non-Format had to think on its feet

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