Hothouse Talk: Grand Visual

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Page from Grand Visual website, showing the technical innovation that’s led them to work regularly with the likes of Disney

At the start of the presentation, students were told to stop taking notes and listen to the presentation being given. I think he misunderstood the situation. I don’t think people usually attend public speaking  events on their lunch-break with the intention of arsing around.  As a result, I don’t have the speaker’s name. He basically showed us a showreel of projects using motion sensor and enhanced reality technology to promote movies and companies with direct interaction with the general public.

There is no doubt Grand Visual are future facing trendsetters. I’m impressed by their core focus of staying at the cutting edge of the industry. My only question is: why were these guys coming in talking about Oculus Rifts and X-Box Kinects to a bunch of students on a course where digital is not central to the teaching philosophy?

It makes me double sad. When asked what he wished he’d done more of while still at uni, the speaker said ‘I wish I’d done more coding.’ Ouch. Excuse us while we go back to using a letterpress and gluing together bits of paper.

Grand Visual do very interesting stuff. I don’t think I’ll be reverse engineering a Xbox One any time soon, but at least they’ve given me a convenient cover story to justify a purchase…

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Making A Living Week: Accelerator

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Simon, one of the Accelerator staff, doing his presentation

After all the designers, we had London Met’s small business and employability team speak to us for the rest of Tuesday. They’re called Accelerator and provide business advice to students and recent alumni. We had talks about what specific job titles we might end up with (ranging from employee to freelancer), we got tips on networking and got a little introduction to using contracts for commissions and copyright law.

We also had a depressing talk about CVs and cover letters. I’d hoped working in a visual medium would negate the worthlessness of my CV, but actually, it turns out I have to graphic design it, on top of everything else. Portfolio be damned.

The talks were extremely useful and provided clarity for things I’d been asking about for years. It’s unfortunate that students are only introduced to these highly knowledgeable people when they already have one foot out the door. Being aware of things like copyright and viable business strategies would (hopefully) help prevent some of the bad habits students tend to pick up working in the bubble of clientless briefs delivered by their course.

This was the end of our courses involvement with Making a Living Week. There was several more days of presentations, but they were aimed at architects and fine artists and the like. I will be contacting accelerator again in the future. At the very least, it couldn’t hurt to run my strategies for the future past them.

Making A Living Week: Chris Walker

The last independent speaker of Making a Living Week was Chris Walker. He came in to walk us through his successful Kickstarter campaign to publish a children’s book called Let’s play: murder.

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Chris Walker. Illustrator.

The book isn’t actually marketed towards children. No bookshop would touch it, (despite the fact that most kids would shrug off the violence just like they do with Horrible Histories books and Mortal Kombat.) Best I’m not the one left to make these decisions, then, eh?

Chris walked us through every step of his (and co-creator Matt Longstaff’s) campaign from having the dummy book fully made (before starting the campaign), through their video pitch and social media activities, to successfully exceeding the original target.

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Matt Longstaff and Chris Walker: serial killers for hire. Only kidding. Or am I? You’ll have to ask them…

Chris made it clear that there was a strategy devised for the month when the Kickstarter was live, comparing it to having a full time job.

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Staying on top of social media is a big part of a successful Kickstarter campaign

Chris gave us lots of useful statistics like ‘56% of all Kickstarters fail’ but ‘of the projects that reach 20% funding, 80% of those, will get fully funded’.

All in all, it was pretty clear that Kickstarting a project is a significant investment of time and effort, and the reward for a successful one is having to do all the work you said you’d do if you got the money! If you added stretch goals, you’ve got to honour those agreements as well!

Chris also mentioned his second successful campaign for a second book: Death by Shakespeare (again with Matt Longstaff), which is about what happens when you give secondary school pupils lessons on The Bard. Ha bloody Ha. Very bloody, in fact.

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Both Kickstarted books

Another great example of a success story that is achievable for those with the ambition and the right mindset. The one thing I worry about, when we hear stories like this is that we don’t hear from the losers, do we? I know it’s an odd thing to say, but, when I was in the foundation year of my degree, a member of staff quite brutally drew attention to the fact that most of the students in the room were not going to be successful in their future endeavours. It was unnecessarily harsh, sure, but I don’t think he was wrong.

The success stories we hear are from strong willed individuals who set out to do something ambitious off their own back, shouldering all the responsibility, credit and blame. When I look across the student body, I don’t see a room full of people who would do such things. There are some who would, sure, but they are the minority. Is this because it takes an alpha personality to be that kind of person, or are there more who would rise to the challenge if it was part of the course from the ground up? Who can say? I suppose ultimately, even as grown ups, it’s best to stick to the same old lies that help most children pursue the dream of creativity: ‘Oh what’s that you’ve drawn? A fire hydrant? It’s very good! Oh it’s a house, you say? Oh okay, but it’s still very good! Keep up the good work!’ etc, etc.

It’s a good idea to lie to children some times, (Santa, death, aspirations, etc) but I think maybe that’s a different blog post!

I’ve always been weary of using Kickstarter to fund a project. Hearing about it first hand has confirmed by reluctance. It is a serious undertaking, almost as serious as taking out a loan from a bank (or less reputable lender). I may use Kickstarter in the future, but just like Chris and Matt, I’ll make sure the numbers add up and the plan is foolfroof.

 

Making A Living Week: Alec Dudson

The third speaker for Making A living Week was Alec Dudson, founder of Intern Magazine, an annual publication devoted to the area of internship, funnily enough. He told the story of having worked in a dead-end job and thinking, ‘Sod this. Let’s do something interesting.’ He went around the world working with some of his design heroes, learning all of the skills needed to run a magazine, and while it was a great thing to be offered the opportunity to work along side these people, getting paid wasn’t usually part of the equation.

 

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Alec Dudson

After a successful Kickstarter campaign (where he still needed more money, as he did his sums wrong-cautionary tale), Alec managed to get his first issue published. He admitted ‘I’m not a businessman’ while reflecting on the difficulties he encountered trying to arrange funding.

The position of the magazine is to give a balanced representation of internship as an employment model, using only contributions from unpaid creatives. By that, I mean people who haven’t had a design job yet, but are clearly talented enough to do them. Alec pays all the contributors to the magazine. Don’t want there to be any confusion on that point.

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2016 Issue of Intern Magazine

It seemed to me that Alec was trying to be completely honest about what he’d gone through, even if that meant coming across as jaded. I know some people weren’t exactly thrilled with this, but I found his demeanour to be refreshing. No 45 minute talk can ever express the months and years of hard work that go into any successful endeavour, and students get enough presentations where big shots reel off the list of elite clients they’ve worked for before swanning off back to work (more on Grand Visual later).

Alec Dudson feels like he’s not so far down the road to success that he’s forgotten what beans-on-toast for dinner feels like.

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A message from Alec to all of us

Jon Cockley talked about this briefly when he mentioned that he was 100% against illustrators working for free, but some people do love to try their luck when it comes to paying commissions. At the heart of Intern Magazine is the notion that creative people offer services and those services are valuable. Underpricing and underpaying are unacceptable. (The free market disagrees vehemently, but that’s another story.)

Dudson’s talk brought the first day’s proceedings to a close. There was a lot to take in. My only complaint is that we didn’t have this thing happen when we were in the first year. In a lot of ways, it’s too late for me to take the good advice and habits these people offered and use them to make me a better practitioner before graduation, so I’ll have to settle for muddling along until I can set my own itinerary.

I should mention I bought a copy of Intern Magazine for a tenner and I must say, as someone who cares very little for embellishment and superfluous details, that I was very impressed with both the print quality and the content of said magazine. In fact, with a few more publications like that to inspire me, I might start taking a shine to magazine layout… No promises, mind you…

Making A Living Week: Handsome Frank Illustration Agency

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Jon Cockley. Frank couldn’t make it

The second speaker for Making A living Week was Jon Cockley, co-founder of Handsome Frank Illustration agency. He walked us through the origin of the company, the services they offer, and even showed us an example of a contract they use. He showed lots of great art and gave us advice on how we should construct our portfolios.

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The team.

His examples were specific, and his advice was practical. He even mentioned copyright, which is something no one I talk to wants to talk about. Ever.

It was a very good talk for students to hear and really was unambiguous about what to expect working under an illustration agency’s umbrella.

The reason I’m being unusually terse here is because looking at the website and all the brilliant artwork has put me in a bad mood. Why am I not doing that instead of typography and collage?!?

I know why, but that doesn’t help the ten year old in me throwing a tantrum.  You go check out all the cool stuff and I’ll stay here and stamp my feet and gnash my teeth like any of the characters in Journey to the West when they get mad.

I should mention that the agency does not have an office, per se, and mostly functions due to the flexibility and variety of things like the Google suite: Slides and Drive, etc.  Despite that, they have an international clientele and illustrator-base. Very interesting what you can do with that old internet, eh?

Making a Living Week: Will Hudson

Will Hudson was the first speaker of the CASS Making a Living program which ran lectures and workshops focused on how to make your mark on your industry of choice.

 

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Website for Will’s student fundraising collaboration

Will opened with a story of how he had to raise money for an exhibition in London as part of his university course. He asked famous designers to create a piece of work about what they would do, if they could do anything tomorrow. Surprisingly, he got some replies to his cold-calling, and then had to go about showcasing the work he was being offered.

As he was explaining all this, he made it very clear that he and his fellow students were jumping in the deep end with both feet, as they had no clue what they were doing and just asked everybody they knew what they should do. Some of his friends did know what to do and eventually, wise decisions were made. This process was repeated at every stage, along with negotiating deals with the printers, gallery space owners and what not. Cost reduction and negating risk were at the heart of every business decision.

 

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An example of the things promoted on It’s Nice That or perhaps something made by their sister design agency Anyways. I can’t remember

After this, Will talked about how he started It’s Nice That, a website (which he was quick to point out, did not start successfully at all) where you can find cool design stuff. After that, he talked about various HudsonBec (a portmanteau of founders Will Hudson and Alex Bec’s surnames) initiatives, including Anyways a design agency they have and Lecture in Progress,  a lecture series designed to demystify the design industry for students.

 

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Example of job structure at It’s Nice That

Will voiced his commitment to showing the more mundane elements of the day to day workings in the design world to help students grasp the realities of a career in design.

 

Finally, Will had advice for students. He recommended asking professionals for advice over a coffee, something informal like that, since everyone loves giving their opinion far more than reading CVs. He showed a motivational video he was sent possibly as a joke, but that he couldn’t quite dismiss, since the advice was surprisingly good. He also recommended targeting people with specific emails and tailoring your message to the individual: ‘Two or three good emails are much better than 50 “to whom it may concern”s.’

All in all, Will Hudson was very informative, down to Earth, and set a high standard for all the other speakers to follow that week. The take away from his presentation is this: have an idea and go do it. Work it out as you do it, no excuses. Keep thinking, keep doing, and at some point, you’ll get traction.

Something about the start of his journey stood out to me: as part of his university course, he was expected to raise money for an exhibition. I don’t think it can be understated how big a deal it is that he was never allowed to create work in a bubble, away from the real world. Everything he had to do, had to be costed for production, paid for, not always with money, and then sold for profit. He was doing this thing for real while still on his course. It’s a very dangerous habit to get into, thinking ‘oh this doesn’t matter. I’s just for uni.’ I know I think like that and it’s a massive problem. Good think I’m studying to become a professional problem solver right? I mean a designer. Not a hitman. I know. I thought hitman too, and I was writing this…

 

Hothouse Talk: Russell Weekes

 

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Russell Weekes’s sense of humour comes through in a lot of his work

Russell Weekes studied illustration as a student, but found himself ultimately ending up working in moving image. He gave us an overview of his career progression through his slide show. He made music videos for bands like Franz Ferdinand. He sent them a demo video of him doing some of the transitions the video is built around, like ,the clap, where one member of the band claps and shrinks the image preceding him, while terrifying the band member who’s about to get ‘clapped’. Another example is the ‘sweep push’ where someone literally sweeps the last scene away with a broom.

Weekes taught himself through trial and error. Having to work with moving images also allowed for flexibility in his thinking and broadened his horizons as a creator.

Weekes was very eloquent both as a public speaker and as a creative. His sense of humour is very apparent in  the majority of his work. I struggle to incorporate mine into what I do most of the time, and I don’t think it should be that way. It’s very hard to be insightful and innovative at the same time.

 

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Still from another music video I can’t find where the song is sung by various user interfaces and things like Sony Walkmans and stuff.

It was clear that Weekes has taken his own path and it is leading him to some very interesting places. It seems to me that his journey has more in common with an artist than a designer. He cold calls clients offering his style and creative vision, they take him up on it and the next thing will probably not be so similar to the last. Juxtapose that with the agency graphic designer who applies for a job with a CV, has a boss, gets a wage, etc. It’s liberating and alarming at the same time, but the more people I hear speak, the more I come to think that the price you pay for being your own boss is never having job security.

As a guy on an illustration degree wanting to move into video for self initiated projects and wanting to be witty and funny in the work he makes, there are a lot of similarities between me and Russell. Definitely food for thought.

Hothouse Talk: Alistair Hall

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Alistair Hall, designer, lecturer, all-round cool dude

This weeks Hothouse talk was by graphic designer and Visual Communication lecturer Alistair Hall. He gave us a wonderful overview of his career highlights, which serve as an example of a path we can take to meet our goals.

He showed lots of cool stuff, but the pictures I took don’t do justice to the work, so I’ll just sent you to his website. One of the most interesting things he talked about was how he saw a project in America that he liked, blogged about it and then asked if anyone in the UK would like to have a go with him. The project in question was a writing school-cum-novelty shop. He put the call out, famed writer Nick Hornby got involved, among others, and Hoxton Street Monster Supplies was born.

Alistair’s blog is really just a collection of stuff he finds cool, and appears to be highly regarded, so maybe there hope I can have A blog like that in the future.  Onwards and upwards, as they say.

Anthony Burrill visits our studio!

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Here’s a piece of Anthony’s you may recognise…

Graphic designer, print maker and all-round nice guy Anthony Burrill visited our studio recently to give us a brief presentation on who he is, the work he makes and his influences. His talk was biographical in nature, starting with him as a plucky young youth, progressing through his student years and onto some of his bigger project to date. It was a fascinating insight into his journey as a designer.

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Anthony googling the work of Bob and Roberta Smith, which he finds to be inspiring

He also talked about some of the art and artists who inspired him to do the work he does, citing Bob and Roberta Smith as an example.

One of the highlights for me was Anthony talking about his time designing a visual identity for the Hans Brinker hotel in Amsterdam. His exact wording escapes me, but whether the hotel was officially voted the worst hotel in the world, or if it’s poor standards just marked it as below acceptable levels, the decision to make the poor quality of the establishment it’s key selling point led to probably some of the funniest and entertaining advertising I will ever see in my life. ‘Now every sink comes with hot and cold water!’ , ‘Free key with every room!’ and more that I am sad to say I can’t remember, now it comes to writing them down. No doubt you’ll get some more from having a look at the Hans Brinker website

Anthony shot through his presentation at a speed fast enough to enjoy, but not fast enough to enjoy and take pictures at the same time. I was loathe to interrupt him to tell him I didn’t get the pictures I wanted and even after the presentation ended, I didn’t want to pull him away from the constructive feedback he was offering other students to make a big deal out of it. This is the eternal problem with being at an event and participating in it whist having to record it as well. The art of taking the kind of photographs that sum up what happened articulately require you to remove yourself from the event, to position yourself to take the winning photo, however or wherever you need to go. I decided I would rather be a participant far more than an apt documenter. The problem with this, is now I’m telling you the story, but don’t have all the details to pass on what happened succinctly.

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Logo variants for the Hans Brinker budget hotel

Another key point of interest is the fact that he was giving out his ‘Work hard and be nice to people’ poster for free after he originally created it. He couldn’t comprehend that people would be willing to pay for it, or perhaps to rephrase that, he was only interested in getting his work out there and any form of profit was a mute point. This echoes something I read Neil Gaiman say in a book once: ‘Never do it for the money. Those are the projects that never work out.'(That’s a paraphrase I just put in quote marks, oh dear.)

It taps into the notion that making art is not about making money, but about having something to say. It’s the juxtaposition of the cult status icon that is the epitome of strong ideals realised without compromise and the intentional pandering towards trends with the intention to maximise profit at the expense of integrity. I would almost go so far as to say the starving artist vs the commercial designer, but that is far too simple a position to take and is immediately rebuffed by Burrill’s jouney and many others as well. Nevertheless, the point is, as design students, we too, need to be consciously aware of what are motivations are for producing work and if they, in some way, are not what they should be. As I like to say after long awkward silences, ‘good talk, good talk…’

Also, here’s Anthony Burrill’s website., in case you want to buy some prints or something. Tell him Andrew sent you. He won’t have a clue what you’re talking about and you certainly won’t get a discount, but, er, you know what, never mind…