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.

Craft (Your) Beer (Brand)

15.10.19

In years gone by, when I was a student at art school, the choice of beer in the union bar was poor: Lager, Heavy or Guinness. Or, if you were a fancy pants, you might be lucky enough to get a can of Red Stripe. There has been a revolution in the beer scene since those days. Walk in to any bar or bottleshop today and the choice is overwhelming, from the vast number of breweries now making beers, to the wide range of styles available.

Good design is key to helping the modern consumer navigate those said bottleshop shelves and taproom lineups. New challenges are cropping up for breweries that were once able to guarantee sales on beer quality alone. Here are a few basic lessons we have learned over the years:

Build trust and recognition in your core brand.

Consumers trust a brewery like they used to trust a record label or publisher. Once you realise that a certain brewery makes tasty beer, you’re obviously going to be comfortable choosing one of their other beers. Help the consumer recognise your brewery by reflecting your overall brand in every can.

Stand out from the rest.

Look at what all the other beers on the shelf look like and do the opposite! There are only so many ways you can copy Beavertown before everyone looks the same. It’s common sense; by making your design different you will make it easier for the consumer to notice you.

Be authentic.

The days of brands hoodwinking consumers with made up back-stories was over in the 1950’s. Today’s consumers want a brand they can trust and believe in.

Don’t underestimate the visual sophistication of your audience.

Everything is looking more sophisticated year on year; movies, video games, fashion, kebab shops. When your target audience see how cool things can look, they are no longer going to be seduced by a design your best friend’s flatmate’s nephew has knocked up on his laptop with a hooky copy of Photoshop.

Basic lessons however only equip you to deal with basic challenges. The recent explosion in the beer scene requires breweries to develop designs that move and grow as fast as the choice of beers does. In the early days of craft beer, producing a single ‘craft beer’ was enough. As consumers demanded more variety, a wider selection of core beers was required. A label system designed to fit one beer style needed to be stretched to fit a wider selection. In Scotland, we saw Innis & Gunn’s original red label, being used in blue to differentiate their Rum Cask variation. Breweries with a wider range of core beers, like Brewdog, required a much wider colour palette to accommodate all their beers. But, how many colours can you add to your palette before customers confuse the ochre of your lager with the burnt orange of your pilsner?

A cherished brand in the design industry is Brooklyn Brewery. The brand and basis of the labels was designed by the legendary Milton Glaser, the famous designer behind the ‘I heart NY’ logo. The labels employ combinations of colours that allow them to visually define a much wider range of beers than single colours could. However, even these guys are struggling to come up with new combos to differentiate their beers. We’ve recently noted that in addition to flipping the colours on the label for each beer, they have also introduced different textures. The orange and green of their East IPA is used again on their Orange IPA variation, but it’s in tandem with an orange peel illustration to keep the label distinguishable.

We might assume at this point we have a handle on how to develop a label system that can grow and develop as you do: A strong core brand; bold headline type defining beer style; a colour palette (of single colours or combos); and texture or illustrations to add a further level of differentiation.

Problem solved? Naw, nae really.

We’ve found new curveballs entering label strategies. Suddenly one-off, seasonal beers are becoming more of a priority for brewers than their core range. This offers a huge amount of variety to consumers, but a real headache to designers. We can handle a slowly growing core range, as you have time to optimise on work on each label design. But with seasonals, new labels are required with much more frequency, and beers can be dropped just as quickly. We have the same challenges of stand-out and differentiation for a label that might only be on the shelves for a few weeks before we need to be ready to develop a new one.

To be honest, when I say it’s the designers’ problem, what I really mean is it is the breweries problem. Most breweries can’t afford to hire external design studios to design every one of their experimental seasonal beers. Instead, we have begun developing label template systems for our clients that, alongside a little training, allow the breweries to design their own labels. These very often have areas where variables can be introduced to differentiate the new beers. We don’t rely wholly on colour but allow multiple ways to personalise a beer whilst still remaining ‘on brand’. We can’t forget that first golden rule of building trust in your core brand. Making labels that look different for the wrong reasons often dilutes your core brand, eroding this trust.

The next curveball (and I am sure not the last) is the recent trend for collaboration brews. Again, brilliant for the consumer, it’s bringing amazing new beers and the best features of our favourite breweries together in delicious harmony (think Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan singing together on Nashville Skyline – David) (think Linkin Park & Jay-Z combining forces on Numb/Encore – Jonny). To tackle this new nightmare for designers we still recommend a template approach, like the seasonals, but this time it includes the added complexity of a second brewery brand (who’s logo and personality often need to be incorporated).

It’s not easy, and we also realise that trying to rationalise a design approach for each new industry fad is not the only solution. Keeping things clean is important both in the design process and the brewing process, but allowing space for creativity, allowing the wild yeast to add some funk, is also a door we must leave open. Some of our favourite label designs break all the rules: the candle stub design for Ominipollo’s Maz pale ale is a modern classic, where colour, brewery and even beer name are all thrown out the window (or round the back).

However, you can’t fight all battles, on all fronts, at the same time. Helping breweries define their priorities at the outset of a project is key. What is your brief? Do you want to develop a label that will make your beers appealing on a supermarket shelf; develop a label that will build loyalty with a local community of superfans; develop a beer label that optimises e-commerce opportunities; make a splash on Instagram; gets rival brewers jealous; make your ex notice you again, etc. etc.

Whatever your priorities are, a good designer can help you get there. We’d recommend your best friend’s flatmate’s nephew, we heard he has Photoshop!

(adapted from our original article featured in the October 2019 edition of Brewers Journal)

Japan’s Extra-ordinary Everyday Design

14.06.19

What we think of as ‘ordinary’ in graphic design (the road signs, the brand logos etc.) often become ‘extra-ordinary’ when viewed by someone from a different part of the world.

During a recent trip to Japan, whilst most folks were taking photos of sunsets and locals wearing traditional kimonos, I spent my time photographing drain covers and empty drinks cans.

Sad, I know, but for all you design geeks out there, here is a selection of my favourites:

Every little thing is Japan is so visually rich, you can be forgiven missing the forest for the trees. Maybe next time I’ll notice the temples and landscapes.
– David

Why have just one logo?

17.01.19

Logos can be boring. Being stuck with one can be especially yawn-inducing. Don’t you wish we could have lots of logos to play with—get some variation in there to keep things interesting?

Most logos these days do have variations: different colour combinations; screen/print versions; animated versions; even responsive adaptations for different screen sizes. There’s also the more old-school approach of having both a logo and a logotype (think Nike, sometimes with the word and sometimes just the swoosh). This is all fine and dandy, but I’d classify all these options as variations of one logo.

Even our fluid typographic logo for the Scottish National Portrait Gallery would likely count as one logo if you had to choose. Why do we limit ourselves? Consistency. Yeah, I get it, and I agree in most cases. With limited budgets and a saturated market, brands need elements that make them easily memorable (what marketers often call ‘strong brand recall’).

Did you need to see that old scripted logo to fill in the blank? No? That’s brand recall.

As illustrated above, we reinforce brand recall with more than logos. We establish tone of voice, colour palettes and image strategies to establish recognition even when the logo is hidden. If we have a wider colour palette, then we often lean more on the other assets for consistency. You still with me? For example, if the colours keep changing in your ads, we’d probably need to make sure the logo or type was prominent and more consistent.

If we accept that principle, then surely if everything else was pretty strong in your applications, why not mix up the logos a bit? Sound crazy? Would it ever work? …well yes, actually, it already does: look at Major League Baseball teams.

Baseball teams aren’t happy with just having one logo, and they’ve proved it with their garb for over 100 years. America’s past-time and oldest sport has a rich visual branding history. The Home team will most often just have their logo on their shirts (a blackletter ‘D’ for Detroit), but when they play away from home they’ll change that to their city name. They’ll even change the font.

They will have a cap with their initials on it when playing Away (Cleveland Indians) but roll out their cheeky (and controversial, but that’s another discussion) face marque when playing at Home. It’s obvious, really—when playing in Cleveland they don’t need to remind the fans what city they are in—why not have a bit of fun instead of using the same old logo?

Could this approach work for corporate brands? For example, do long-time employees really need the name of the company emblazoned on every page on their door entry card? How about simply their name in the brand’s typeface, or better yet, their own personal version of the corporate logo? Some brands already do this a bit in the public sphere; Google famously mix up their homepage, changing the logo to celebrate certain dates.

Packaging of course is another example, where instead of one monolith logo, we often see a range of visual identifiers, arguably, different logos. Another client O Street have worked with is Dewars, who have a logotype for Dewars and one for John Dewar & Sons Ltd; they also have a signature and even a Celtic knot.

Our recent branding for McHenry Brewing Co has a bunch of different logos. It may be dangerous for a new brand, but in the context of beer we felt we had the scope to be playful. Okay, we’d been watching a lot of baseball, but with tight control of the core brand red-orange colour we felt we were in safe territory to maintain consistency, too.

I guess this comes back to a common theme in our work at O Street: questioning established norms. Do we really need to do it that way because everyone else does it that way, or should we focus on what that particular brand needs to achieve first and come up with a new way of delivering that? Also, do we need to be that precious with the brands we make? Can a bit of variation actually help add personality without damaging the brand?

We’re looking to find out. Are you?

Spelling Your Own Name Wrong: When Will We Trust Ai to Write Our Emails?

28.11.18

In O Street’s early days we won a big job with a gallery in Glasgow. In my haste and excitement when writing my first email to the client, I signed off as ‘Davis’ instead of ‘David’. I was too embarrassed to correct my mistake, so for the following three years I became Davis: the client addressed me as Davis in person, introduced me to colleagues as Davis and even captioned our work as Davis. In the studio, the notorious nickname has stuck (proof of that from our Slack channel below).

However, these days such typographic mistakes are becoming harder to make. Auto-Spell on most applications highlights mistakes as you make them. What’s more, AI is even beginning to write your messages for you. I had a whole twenty message conversation with one friend last week in LinkedIn by each of us just clicking the suggested auto response.

Gmail recently took this one stage further by offering to auto compose my emails. When the tool was first highlighted to me I thought ‘hell no, I’ll never use that!’, but already these last few days I’ve hit the tab button quite a few times to complete my thoughts, much more eloquently than I could have on my own. I realise that for quite a while now I had actually been letting my grammar slip on email, shortening sentences unnecessarily and not making my points as clear as they could be. My bad.

This kind of support will make life so much easier for dyslexic (why did they make that word so hard to spell!!?) designers like myself. But is this right? Are we letting the robots take control? Or are they just propping us up?

The Davis story is funny; it was a happy accident that still gets laughs in the pub and there are a bunch more stories just like it. Will the advance of AI kill these quirks off, or will they introduce a whole lot of even funnier ones?

I don’t know, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

*This blog was written wholly by me, with no AI assistance whatsoever.

Highland Gems: three places to visit near Aberdeen

28.08.18

It’s easy to knock Scotland’s tartan-carpeted tourist economy, but boy-o-boy can we do things well, too!

O Street are just back from a top secret new project in the Highlands (more about that soon), and it was with great delight that in the space of 24 hours we discovered three absolute gems to phone home about. Here’s three must-stops within a short drive of Aberdeen airport, whether you are here as an international tourist or a Lowlander up for a Highland adventure.

The Craigellachie Hotel

Home to the recently launched Copper Dog small batch blend (a point of pride on its own), this hotel also has two bars and a top notch restaurant. One venison burger and two craft ales down, I observed tattooed waiters working a packed, jovial atmosphere and thought to myself how unexpected it was to be feel so hip 4 hours north of Glasgow’s Finnieston. I can’t vouch for the hotel, but if the informal bar is anything to go by this place is a serious classy act.

The Macallan Visitor Centre

I’ve been to many distilleries in my time, but nothing quite like this. We all love the traditional distilleries (The Glenfiddich down the road from here is a great example), but driving into the car park at The Macallan you quickly realise this is a whole new experience. The strikingly modern architecture is almost hidden from a distance, created to sit un obtrusively in the wild mountainside. Approaching the main entrance by foot from the car park, the scale and size of the building is breathtaking.

Many other whisky experiences seem frightened to loose themselves from the shackles of traditional shortbread tin ‘Scottish-ness’, and for very good reason: it’s what many tourists and whisky drinkers want to see. With this new visitor centre, however, The Macallan have been brave enough to try something new, avoid the safe bet and present whisky in a brand new way. I loved it!

BrewDog, Ellon

We’ve been lucky enough to work with these guys in the past and are unashamed fans of what they have achieved. Somehow still positioned as craft, BrewDog have experienced meteoric growth—new breweries in the US and plans in place for breweries in Australia and China—that has turned them into a serious global beer player. In the current economic climate, it’s a Scottish business success story we should all be boasting about.

Approaching the brewery from the road outside the sleepy rural town of Ellon, massive brewery tanks tower over a huge complex of buildings that house BrewDog’s worldwide HQ. Inside their thriving office building you could easily be mistaken for thinking you are in the beating heart of a Silicon Valley business, or trendy east London tech giant. Further to the office building there are two taprooms, a merch shop and the soon to be opened experimental brewery Overworks. I’ll be coming straight back when that’s open!

So, next time you’re considering a weekend adventure, stuff Barcelona or New York and get your behouchies up to Aberdeen.

David,
O Street