The Future of Networking

01.02.21

I am a strong believer in the importance of networking. Building strong relationships with our clients and creative circle is a driving principle behind O Street’s success.

Yet it’s becoming obvious to most of us that the future of networking is going to have to change. Like many things, COVID is accelerating change that was already in progress. That 1980’s approach to networking in cheesy conference centres with people in shiny suits has had its day. But what is the future of networking?

At a recent Glasgow School of Art event, I was invited along to discuss this very topic so I’m sharing it here to get the conversation rolling.

‘Networking’ is one of those words, like Strategy or Innovation, or even Brand, that doesn’t really mean a lot until you think about it in context.

So let’s start by looking at the basics:

Why Network?

Before you embark on networking, it’s really important to work out why you are networking? There can be lots of reasons:

– To win new work
– To get a job
– To make friends
– To be inspired
– To learn
– A combination of the above

All of these are valid reasons, but knowing which are your priorities will help you focus your energy.

If it’s about wanting to win new work or get a job, you probably want to behave a bit more professionally. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t show your real personality but stuff like doing a bit of research on people beforehand and then following up with emails is less weird than it would be if you were just trying to make friends.

I would point out a side-benefit here too: we have found that friends and people you network with to learn from are also often the best people to get new work from.

Where you Network?

It’s a mistake to think of Networking as a single instance, a moment. In a business/learning situation, you have the before, the moment and the after. The key thing is the ability to nurture a longer-term relationship. So the question of ‘where’ becomes less important, or is spread over multiple instances:

– Research people/organisations before online/LinkedIn
– Interact/Engage with people you might meet on social media, Instagram
– Then there is often a ‘moment’ of meeting. In normal times, this could have been a pub, an office or a conference. However, in lockdown things are different.
– And yeah, follow up with any interesting people you meet by emailing, messaging, tagging and generally pestering them.

So, lockdown has really scuppered the ‘Where’ for now. However, there are alternatives:

– We have tackled screen meeting fatigue by making a lot more old fashioned phone calls.
– We have invited ex-employees and other creatives to our informal studio meetups.
– We have made an effort to keep in touch with clients a lot more regularly via email and socials.
– We have opened up one particular monthly catch up session to a client and invited a range of tech startups to pitch their wares to us both.
– It’s obviously also broken down a lot of geographic barriers as these networking opportunities are now global. One day last month I had meetings in the following countries: Sri Lanka; Glasgow; London; Denver; Paris and Luxembourg. In one day! I also co-presented at a conference in Toronto in December with my colleague who was in Denver.

How to Network?

The easiest networks to build on are the ones you already have, so we put a lot of focus on nurturing existing relationships. Keeping in touch with people. But we have learned a few things that help establish stronger relationships and networks such as:

– It’s very easy to get caught up in the benefit that a contact might bring you. Quickly and succinctly highlight for them the ‘value’ you can add.
– Why it’s of mutual benefit for someone to get to know you. This can seem difficult if you’re younger and lacking experience, however it can be spun into positives. A relative outsider to a job or industry can offer insight into it that people very close to it can’t see. Furthermore, younger creatives tend to have more left-field, super-creative work and solutions to problems which a more experienced designer may not think of. Take risks, folks!
– Memory triggers. Most important for a fleeting, initial meeting with people… think about how you can help them remember you. It might be a strong piece of work (such as ‘O Street are the company that designed Scotland’s bank notes’) or it might be something unrelated to work (like he’s the guy with the handlebar moustache. Or that’s the woman that wears the bright purple jacket).
– Gift giving. We make a point of sending our favourite clients presents every Christmas. In our case, it’s often a chance to show off our work (e.g. a box of beer that we’ve designed the labels for). It’s really appreciated and who doesn’t like a present!

In the new era of lockdown, we also place a lot of importance on the informal chat before you get down to business. We talk about haircuts, homeschooling, what to watch on Netflix, any old thing really. Our clients and potential clients are real people just like us, all starved of that human interaction that we took for granted before.

Who to Network with

Once you realise how networking will add value to your business, it’s an easy mistake to go straight to networking events with strangers. Again, the best people to network with are often a lot closer to home.

Explore your Primary network
An exercise a lot of businesses do is get a big whiteboard and list as many of their existing friends and associates who might have networking value. It’s amazing how many you may have overlooked. The old school friend who is currently the marketing manager at a big company or that ex-client who now manages a massive budget for an international brand. I recommend you lot explore this primary network before trying to network with anyone else!

Tap into your Secondary Network

Your primary network is only ever going to be a finite size. An academic somewhere once set the total number of people any one person could have a meaningful relationship with at around 150. You usually have relationships with these people because you share common interests or friends, but the truth is if you are looking just to tap this group for every opportunity you want in life—be it work or personal—you are likely to exhaust it pretty quickly. Your secondary network, however, has the potential to be a lot bigger. Friends of friends, colleagues, flatmates, people that guy once worked with. Not only is this network much bigger, but it is also likely to be a lot more varied and with a lot more work. This variation is an opportunity to learn new things, or if you flip it, they might have much more interest to learn or get work from you!

Learning to navigate this secondary network is not easy… there are lots of things to try:
– Go to events you might not normally attend
– Look outside your geographic area
– Keep up with websites, blogs and newspapers you might not normally read
– Ask friends to introduce you to new people

This last one I think is key: it’s a way of using your primary network to leapfrog and tap into a much wider group of people.

Balancing the value

I am going to finish here by sharing a secret calculator we use at O Street to decide on whether a client or lead is worth going for. As with networking, there will come a point where you need to decide whether the value you are going to get out of an endeavour is worth it.

As a business with overheads, we obviously need to earn money. But if that’s all we cared about, we would have chosen another profession. So we balance a range of four factors in deciding the value of a job:
– Creativity
– Budget
– Time
– PR
Rare jobs have all four but for most, it’s a mix and this calculator helps us prioritise whether a project or new client is worth it!

It occurs to me that the same logic could be applied to the wider questions graduating creatives must have looking for work in today’s marketplace and have a mix of sorts:
– Creative fulfilment
– Money
– Work/Life balance

I truly think that the days of commuting several hours a day to work in a busy city for not much money are over. This last year has left us all questioning our priorities. We’ll all have our own focus, but I believe the work/life balance has become a lot more valuable for lots of people.

But hey, we still need money, right… and as creatives, we still long for an opportunity to learn and grow as artists too. If I was starting again today, I don’t think I would do much differently, but I would balance a few of these factors before deciding when and who I networked with at all.

This blog is a summary of a talk written for a Glasgow School of Art event on the 26th January 2021.

We Got a George

02.07.20

The O Street team is chuffed to announce we’ve added a new designer to our Glasgow team. Meet George Creese.

George Creese

George is yet another Edinburgh College of Art hire for O Street (we swear it’s not intentional). He brings a good pair of design hands and a keen eye to the studio. It’s a strange time to be joining a design team, with on-boarding taking place over Google Meet and Slack. However, the O family is used to remote practices and George takes our video conference dad jokes like a champ.

Design folio 1 Counter Culture Poetry book George Creese Instagram

Keep an eye out for his addition to our ongoing list Love in the Time of Corona.

Porto Design Summer School (A Good Use of Two Weeks in Portugal)

30.05.18

Okay, it’s tough to have a BAD two weeks in Portugal, but Porto Design Summer School is a good way to get it right.

Photo: Porto Design Summer School

Student work. Photo: Porto Design Summer School

O Street’s Josh P took part in the course’s first run in 2013. Walking the streets of this majestic, brilliantly grungy and deathly hot city, he learned more about design and his physical capacity to sweat in two weeks than he had in years at university. It certainly didn’t hurt that the tutors were some of the best living graphic designers, including Jonathan Barnbrook and Jessica Helfand.

A quote by tutor Andrew Howard, illustrated by Josh P

The focus of the course was typographic. The students become completely immersed in the local visual vernacular; Oporto is an endlessly fascinating city chock full design inspiration.

The final project is to take a work of literature and interpret it through the lens of the city with a print publication. It‘s a crash-course in type, layout, and contextual design.

Student work. Photo: Porto Design Summer School

 

Photo: Porto Design Summer School

Photo: Porto Design Summer School

For this summer’s course, the programme has a shiny new responsive website and a suite of amazing new tutors, with Ronnie Fueglister and Sonya Dyakova joining staples Andrew Howard and Hamish Muir. Their work is amazing.

If you feeling a calling to do so, sign up here to enjoy design, exploring and mingling in Porto.

— Josh P
(This post was not paid or requested by the school.)

GSA Winter School in the Highlands

27.02.18

In January, students from Audencia Business School’s MSc in Management and Entrepreneurship in the Creative Economy (MECE) programme travelled to The Glasgow School of Art’s Creative Campus in the Scottish Highlands for the International Winter School. The event is a two-week intensive experience that brings together design practitioners, students and scholars from all over the world.

O Street have had links to Audencia since we created illustrations to help them communicate their course structures.

At this year’s Winter School, the students were tasked with researching contemporary interpretations of heritage. O Street’s David Freer was asked to talk to the students about both new models of working in the design industry and projects that dealt with ‘contemporary interpretations of heritage’.

The design industry has surely changed since O Street first started. Emerging technologies affect both the tools we use and the mediums we employ. There has also been a shift from fully integrated agencies to smaller boutique studios. With these smaller studios now working for bigger global brands, collaboration and the very definition of what ‘design’ means is being re-examined across a spectrum of services.

When it came to discussing ‘heritage’, we presented O Street’s redesign of the new RBS bank notes, a piece of work that will be in Scotland’s pockets for the next 30–40 years. In this project, not only did we have to think about presenting the heritage of the nation in an engaging way but we had to balance aesthetics with a timeless narrative that would remain relevant for decades to come.

Further to this, our work with cultural brands positions O Street in a unique place to understand how heritage can be used as a way to inspire, engage and excite.

Speaking with this new generation of designers reminded us how creative and powerful our industry can be and reassured us of the importance in harnessing their talents and providing them with the opportunity to really make a difference in the world.

“International Winter School is an opportunity to do something that is fundamentally different,” explains Dr Gordon Hush, director of the Innovation School at the GSA. “We’re actually engaging with communities; we’re engaging with real people and we’re doing it in an international context.”

As Dr Catherine Morel, associate professor of marketing and head of the MECE programme at Audencia, describes: the International Winter School atmosphere allows students to fully inhabit their creative and innovative potential. “Students have space to think and create,” she says. “It’s a marvellous place to be.”

Thanks again to both Catherine and Gordon for inviting us to participate in this year’s Winter School.

Graphic Design Festival Scotland Live 2-Day Brief

30.10.17

Graphic Design Festival Scotland is an annual festival that seeks to elevate the global stature of design and its reach in Scotland. Four years in, it’s working. O Street were delighted to again be invited as mentors for the fest’s live 2-day brief. This year’s challenge, posed by It’s Nice That and Eye Magazine, was deceptively simple:

True to real-world pressures, students partaking in the live brief are thrown into the fires of intense brainstorming, conceptualising and prototyping. Each of the ten mentor studios choose a champion to present their design to the festival (they also win an internship with their mentors).

We began our process by introducing the youngsters to O Street’s process: fresh air and unusual inspiration. In other words: we won’t be caught dead scrolling through Pinterest. Our team hit the streets of Glasgow city centre and snapped photos of anything that looked interesting. Within half an hour we’d not only cleared our heads and gotten some exercise but also catalogued a collection of amazing street photography.

Feeling fresh, we dove into a round of Crazy Eights: coming up with at least eight ideas responses to the brief in just a few minutes. This allowed the team to really stretch their creativity and get a few things down on paper. With a minimum of eight, there’s bound to be some duds destined for the bin — which makes the good ideas stand out.

It was then time to interrogate the brief: what was the problem we were being asked to provide a solution for? What was a public domain; public space, the internet, social media, royalty free intellectual property, information, knowledge? We also dug deep into the meaning of what the brief was seeking—to make people FEEL BETTER ABOUT THEMSELVES—and decided it wasn’t enough to make people smile.

After some motivation and heavy discussions involving self-worth, socioeconomics, etymology, design theory, and good old-fashioned feelings, our team re-approached their ideas and settled on what they’d be designing. O Street’s one rule: everyone had to MAKE something. The response to the brief could not be, “I have an idea for a campaign/app…”

We were floored by the quality of work done by our group; everyone adequately answered the brief and made some lovely graphics to boot. Here are a couple standouts:

Dundee students Paddy and Stu created Still You, a guerrilla campaign reminding people that even if their day’s gone off the rails, they’re still their fantastic selves.

Moritz Schottmüller and Shuaitong Zong of HFG Karlsruhe in Germany took a wildly different approach: their public domain was language, and they sought to create a universal good to insert into languages worldwide. While they didn’t quite find a solution (yet), their research led down some amazing graphic rabbit holes and became a project in itself.

Molly Davies of the Glasgow School of Art devised a sophisticated visual identity around a simple theme: morse code. She sought to bring comfort to those in distress by making use of old telephone boxes.

O Street’s whole group came to play, but we had to choose one to show the entire festival. We selected Paddy and Stu’s project Still You, as we felt it most directly responded to the brief, and had a sound visual identity to boot. They also came through on our one rule, to MAKE something and put into the world (in just a day!)

The GDFS live 2-day brief isn’t just useful for the participants, but for the mentors, too. We were able to hone this design process by guiding our group:
— Take a walk, and take in unusual inspiration
— Chuck down loads of ideas
— Take pains to truly understand the brief
— Trim down the ideas and execute

GDFS Live 2–day Project

10.11.16

Graphic Design Festival Scotland is a week-long programme of talks, learning and making. O Street took part as mentors and led a group of young designers in taking on a two day competitive brief.

IMG_7079 Graphic Design Festival Scotland

After introducing O Street using every available facial expression, Josh represented the studio as a mentor for the two-day project. The competitive brief, set in the context of autonomy, was dangerously simple: start something.

Such an open brief is a scary one for designers. We live by rules, grids and guides. Designers fancy themselves problem solvers, but with an open brief, you need to FIND problems that need solving.

So how did Josh and his gang tackle the brief? We took a walk.

Graphic Design Festival Scotland, The Lighthouse, Glasgow. Photo By Stephen Hughes

IMG_7005

In a busy, bustling room buzzing with creatives, things were feeling claustrophobic. And so, we read the brief, read it again, then left for a walk and a chat.

A chat about the brief? No! We talked films, politics, colonising Mars, chocolate covered pretzels, skinny jeans; we talked about everything under the sun that wasn’t the brief. After a while, after talking openly about things they cared about, our designers had come to find problems that needed solving. They identified problems in this world that could be helped by starting something.

Graphic Design Festival Scotland

While the team were given direction on graphic design—the theme of the festival, after all—Josh made it clear that they wouldn’t be spending hours upon hours picking over fonts, colours and crafting tidy little logos. We were going to challenge ourselves.

Throughout the two days, we emphasised getting out of our comfort zones; getting out into the street and talking to people; challenging our perceptions of what design really was; working in a way we’d never worked before.

Graphic Design Festival ScotlandGraphic Design Festival Scotland

Our group came up with some amazing projects; one of which even won second place in the overall competition. Lisa and Lorna started The Walk Up, a non-profit focused on supporting sex workers in the UK. They were intensely informed on the subject and created a powerful brand toolkit to represent the idea.

THE WALK-UP._Page_04 THE WALK-UP._Page_01THE WALK-UP._Page_03Graphic Design Festival ScotlandTHE WALK-UP._Page_02 THE WALK-UP._Page_10

This video features explicit language and references sexual violence—to watch, enter the password ‘ostreet’.

Other projects from the O group included a campaign to reverse the law banning gay people from donating blood in the UK, an organisation to facilitate apprenticeships in the digital age, and a daring, abstract series of happenings centred on personal empowerment.

We’re proud of the quality of work from all our troops and the massive success of GDFS.