Remotely Interesting: We’re Going to Manchester

13.01.20

With a decade behind us, it’s now the 20s and we’re looking forward. As a small team and creative business founded by two blokes who’d done the whole Big Agency thing, flexibility is integral to keeping us afloat. We’ve made work/life balance integral to how we operate and how we grow our business.

From unique internal processes and flexible working hours to annual fishing trips and a weekly beer o’clock we’ve figured out a few things along the way that work for us and our team. When we keep the balance with everyone, it keeps us on an even keel at the same time… and stops us from being left high and dry. Too far with the fishing trip metaphors?

What I’m trying to say is, that there are a few things we bear in mind as we grow our team and expand our horizons.

First up, we try to maintain a sense of purpose behind what we do. What’s the big picture? Are we proud of our work? Are we making positive contributions to the world? This might come in the form of side projects that add value to what we do in a different way. Or it might be working with clients who are literally impacting the world in a positive way. Whatever it is, we like to dream big and beyond our humble graphic design studio status.

An arrangement of burnt tortilla chips. Inspiration everywhere.

Secondly, we keep an eye on our company progress, but not in the traditional sense. Success is often measured in terms of profit margins or hours worked, but we’ve found that allowing the O team a wee bit of extra time each week to work on ‘fun stuff’ can lead to unexpected results. Results we wouldn’t have achieved otherwise. Allowing Tessa her sketching hours, Jonny his random 3D animations and me my nap time (only almost joking!) means there is learning and growing happening over a longer period of time. It might not be measurable in the same way, but the results are tangible.

We also want our team to have freedom; to balance their personal and professional lives; to solve problems how they want; to structure their workday so they can be their most productive. It’s about working smarter, not harder, and if that means taking time out to attack the woodpile? Well, who are we to judge?

All of these ideas are helping us to become a company that embraces the future of business and the importance of work/life balance. A key aspect of this balance has been our ventures into remote working. There’s no argument that remote working is on the rise. Over the last couple of years, both employees and employers have seen the advantages and started remote working schemes. This enables employees to have a flexible schedule and work from any corner of the world where they feel most productive.

Alongside productivity and balance, creating opportunities for employees creates opportunities for business at the same time. When I moved to London, it meant meeting with some of our bigger music mogul clients much easier. Since opening our USA branch of O Street, we’ve worked with some amazing folk — including a maverick distillery owner, a new cannabis brand and a national fabric dye producer. These are projects that wouldn’t have come knocking at our door—we branched out.

So what’s next?

We’re expanding again, this time to kick-start a fledgling O Street hub in Manchester in the North West of England! Our creative designer Tessa Simpson will be taking the helm, going back to her roots and tapping into (not entirely) unchartered territories. We’re excited to revisit some of our previous projects down that way, continue collaborating with folk we admire and to grow our creative circle.

Most of all we’re excited to see one of our employees, who joined us a fresh-faced junior, continue on as an O ambassador. Tessa will be spreading the word, branching out into new markets and continuing to work on all things O Street. We’ve invested a lot of O Street’s ethos in Tessa and she has grown into a formidable creative force who is ready to venture onwards to the next step, flying the O ST banners.

Tessa is moving as of March this year, camping out with the wonderful Creative Concern at their Oxford Road studio space to start off with and exploring all Manchester has to offer. If you’re based that way, we’d love to hear from you. Friends, collaborators, clients — drop Tessa a line at tessa@ostreet.co.uk and go grab a cuppa with her. She’s just as smiley in real life!

—David

Ten Years and Counting Mixtape

13.01.20

We do like a good music compilation. And as we come from the mixtape generation, all we need is half an excuse for a theme—hey, a fresh decade will do! We thought we’d celebrate with a Ten Year Mixtape, looking back at a decade of O Street, big news stories and year-defining tracks.

Remember this guy?!

2009

This was the year where we began to feel like a proper grown-up business. We realised there were other great studios starting in Glasgow and had to take it up a gear. O Street expanded to a three-man band, hiring Ed Watt and continuing our growth in the culture industry with work for the likes of Edinburgh International Film Festival and BAFTA Scotland.

 

Steve Jobs releases the first of the ten commandments.

2010

The Ten Year Mixtape moves to the year we started our work with the flourishing Celtic Connections music festival in Glasgow. With this, our team was enlightened to the wonder of free gig tickets (which only unravelled backstage at the Royal Concert Hall when Neil almost got into a fight with one of the Chieftains).

 

A pretty memorable global moment.2011

After making the move from Otago Street to a remodelled launderette shopfront on Bank Street, we considered changing our name to B Street (and thankfully didn’t). With a growing client and employee base, we now we had a shiny new studio to match. We hosted—and performed in—the National Theatre of Scotland’s Five Minute Theatre project and won a national award for our whisky themed, social media-fueled #oHeresTo event.

 

Don’t forget about that logo either.

2012

This year was the peak in our cultural work, with a complete rebrand of the National Galleries of Scotland and their four venues, we spent most of our time in 2012 working with the Galleries. The year ended with a big party to celebrate founding partner Neil Wallace’s fiftieth (you’d better believe the Ten Year Mixtape contribution for this year is his). The studio also had our first job with one of our longest-standing clients, digital data music platform Last.fm.

 

Hooray for love!

2013

This was a momentous year, our work on the HOME arts venues in Manchester won a handful of national design awards, and even included collaboration with design titan Peter Saville. We began work creating interactive maps for the Scottish Government and David opened our first satellite studio just outside London. Vapp, a mobile app side project we developed was listed as a top 10 photo app in the Daily Telegraph and won the Glasgow’s Got Business Talent award.

 

Déja vu? Is that you?

2014

This was the year that with a heavy heart, we branched out from our cultural clients. Arts funding was drying up and marketing spends seemed to be the first thing to disappear. So we tried our hand at something different and began working with clients in the music (the Brit Awards) and whisky sectors, a heady combination. 2014 was also the year Tessa Simpson entered the scene, followed rapidly by a bouncing Josh Peter. Both have helped shape the studio ever since.

 

The dress that divided a nation.

2015

The big one for us this year was working on the development of the new polymer banknotes for the Royal Bank of Scotland. Designing money! Hard one to beat, although we tried with the beginning of a working relationship with the team at BrewDog in our first foray into the craft beer space!

 

The app that got people into parks again.

2016

We finally made time for a client we’d been avoiding for years: O Street. It was time to refresh our own brand and build a new website. Spinning out of this grew a short documentary about the typographer who drew our logo (Tam) which we created with pals and collaborators Pretend Lovers. The short film won a place on a BAFTA film festival and is still touring globally in 2019 with the Craft Council. We followed the work with O Street with a slightly bigger client called Google and ended the year with a live gig in the studio by long term idols of ours, The Burning Hell.

 

#throwback

2017

We started the year with the surprise commercial success of our fingerless BUCK–FAST gloves, selling out in a week. It was also the year O Street went international, with our very own Josh Peter opening an O Street studio in Denver, Colorado. Long term client relationships brought us work with both Sony Music and Spotify as our creds in the music sector grew and grew — keeping our new hire Jonny Mowat busy, busy, busy!

 

How the mighty have (not) fallen.

2018

The talented Anna Dunn joined the team and wriggled mackerel-like out of our ill-fated annual fishing trip on Loch Fyne. This was the year we managed to beach our boat two miles up loch! It honestly had nothing to do with the free samples from our latest client Fyne Ales which we had been reviewing on the boat… honestly. We were already oiled on other stuff.

 

Brexsh*t

2019

This year has been about more than Brexit with exciting new work coming from our US office (such as a full label suite for Denver Distillery), Tessa running branding workshops in Kenya and Anna taking numerous sixteen-hour train trips to a museum in Leeds. We also managed to not sink the new fishing boat plus taught Jonny how to play the Harmonium. Ten Year Mixtape sorted.

2020
Now we’re into a new decade, what’s next?

We’ve got a few things up our sleeve, with a new Scottish brewery rebrand, another campaign for Scottish Book Week and the launch of our third issue of CRUSH zine. We’re also excited to announce that we’re expanding* this year, read our Remotely Interesting blog to find out more!

So here’s to the next decade, onwards and upwards.

*sideways rather than out, but if you are a young gun looking for a new role, consider sending us your portfolio.

Branding Architects and Kissing Giraffes

10.01.20

Kenya believe we were in Nairobi? We barely remember the busy blur that was 2019, but taking a lengthy Christmas break helped to clear our heads. In-between the fishing trips, beer work and design events I really did fit in a trip to Kenya. And yes, I really did kiss that giraffe.

That giraffe.

How did I find myself here? At the end of 2019, we crafted a brand identity for Nairobi-based architecture firm BuildX Studio (formerly Orkidstudio). We also designed a new identity for their sister organisation Buildher. They’re a social enterprise that empowers Kenyan women by providing them with accredited construction skills.

Before starting the project, we ran a series of workshops to build a foundation for the brand. We also wanted to identify how these two brands would work alongside one another. BuildX and Buildher are connected, but working out how that connection works visually was a complex design challenge.

Alongside the BuildX and Buildher teams, O Street recognise the importance of getting ‘stuck in’ with a new client. To successfully brand an organisation, it’s vital to get a feel for the people behind the company and the projects they are working on. So at the end of September, we chose a designer to go to Kenya. And just like that, I was working out of Nairobi during the week and safariing on the weekend!

Evidence of me perfecting the art of snapping photos from a moving vehicle.

Of course, as I voyaged, I continued the O Street tradition of #otypesafari—hunting for typographic goodness. I was a kid in a candy shop upon discovering that nearly all of the signage in Nairobi is still hand-painted. It seems that skilled labour is more affordable than plastic vinyl alternatives. Casual signwriter ‘shops’ adorn the highways advertising their services. The result is a characterful array of shop fronts, signs and Matatus (wildly driven and decorated minibuses that service as taxis across the city).

Yes, that is a spoiler on the back of a bus.

The trip was a whirlwind experience and being fully immersed in the culture of both brands was the perfect way to kick off the project. It was also fun to join the ranks of O remote workers for a week. With a time difference of just plus two hours, it was surprisingly easy to keep up with the team. Continuing ongoing projects was a breeze. At the same time, I could recap the workshops I had run that morning, whilst the UK team were still getting their morning coffee!

Here’s to 2020, when we’ll finally figure out how to make conference calls without the deafening sound of Neil making tea in the background.

—Tessa

A Design Studio’s Must-Watch Christmas Movies

16.12.19

Ah, that time of year for a seasonal blog post. Put another log on the fire and curl up with one—or six—of our favourite holiday flicks.

Christmas Vacation

Penned by the crown prince of 80s films himself, John Hughes’ Christmas Vacation is a love letter to middle-class fatherhood steeped in Midwestern American lore. Picking a favorite scene like trying to rank order the Beatles’ greatest hits: this could take hours, just put the damn thing on.

In a film that’s as tragic as it is funny, witnessing Clark Griswald burn the perfect family Christmas to the ground is a necessary reminder that the only way to make sure something goes wrong is to obsess over it going right.
—Josh

Home Alone

A pure nostalgia trip, Home Alone has become one of those annual family traditions now — just like cranberry sauce or political debates at the dinner table. Growing up we considered Macaulay Culkin the smartest kid around town and I still remember marveling at those cartoonishly violent DIY traps. Also top marks for one of the worst and best insults ever to be gifted to children: “Kevin, you’re such a DISEASE!”
—Tessa

Edward Scissorhands

After exhausting herself arguing that Edward Scissorhands is, in fact, a Christmas movie to her terrible coworkers, Anna has nothing left to say. Just go and watch this beautiful film from Tim Burton at the height of his powers.
—Anna

Hooves of Fire

Steve Coogan. Ardal O’ Hanlon. Ricky Tomlinson! Paul Whitehouse & Harry Enfield!! I mean COME ON! This weird claymation TV short somehow made its way into my Christmas in when it was released as a Comic Relief promo in 1999, and somehow never left. Claymation at Christmas is a strong Mowat tradition, and this one was the one we’d watch when we’d ran out of Wallace & Gromit.

Full of gloriously dumb gags only made possible with claymation, as well as a good bit of blue for t’dads, it’s a great family watch. Robbie “I’m a rubbish reindeer. I’m even a rubbish elf. I’m worse than rubbish. If they tossed me in the rubbish bin, the other rubbish would say…” *Cuts to Robbie in a pile of rubbish* Rubbish: “There goes the neighborhood.”
—Jonny

Trading Places

It was proved to me how badly dated this movie is when I made the younger contingent of the studio watch it with me before last year’s office Christmas party—the politically correct millennial equivalent to torturing terrorists by making them listen to Britney Spears on repeat. Through their eyes I now fully appreciate the cringe factor of the overt nudity, racial stereotypes and surface level moral lessons that are rife in the film.

But man, this movie was formative in my comedic upbringing, and it will always hold a dear place in my heart. “Shit, when I was young you had to fart in the bath to make a jacuzzi!”
—David

White Christmas

I looked at a top 50 list of Christmas movies and picked the first one.
—Neil, full of cheer

Beer is the Best Beverage (and Other Learnings From the Brewer’s Congress)

11.12.19

The good folks at Brewer’s Journal (shout out to Tim & Jon!) invited us down to this year’s Brewer’s Congress last week, which is a day filled with talks about beer, food served alongside beer, and beer. Having attended some Brewer’s Lecture events as both speakers and beer fans, we’ve realised that passionate brewers share a lot of common traits with passionate designers, so we were positively stoked to hear from some of the most influential and renowned breweries making shit-hot beer for the world.

Don’t Dismiss Traditional British Beer

As designers, we know that ‘newer’ does not equal ‘better’, but as beer drinkers we do get tempted by the new, shiny brewing styles that are popping up all over the place. It was hard not to be infected by the enthusiasm for traditional British beer that radiated from speakers such as Miles Jenner, Head Brewer & MD at Harvey’s Brewery, who actually grew up on a traditional British brewery, or Derek Prentice, Brewmaster at Wimbledon Brewery, who was celebrating brewing equipment innovations inspired by UK brewing history. While some of the intricacies of Victorian-era brewing engineering flew well over our heads, we did leave feeling inspired by our own national drink and its rich history.

Authenticity or Perish?

Most of the speakers united in a common derision of beer geeks. They had an unwavering belief in their craft that almost dismissed the end consumer. They just wanted to see how to brew the best goddamn beer they could. In response to the proliferation of fruity IPAs, Master Belgian brewer Yvan De Baets of Brasserie De La Senne offered my favourite line of the day: “if you really like magoes that much…go eat a mango.”

Yvan went on to say, “You should know what you want to drink, then make it”. This chimed with Burning Sky founder Mark Tranter’s belief in brewers needing an unwavering focus. The general feeling was that brewers that just followed the whim and fancy of each passing trend were doomed for failure.

I took from this consideration that the craft brewers had recognised the one trump card (an authentic, artisanal approach to brewing) they can play against the big brewers.

Collaboration Leads to Inspiration

Christian Townsend from North Brewing made an excellent comparison at the end of his talk. Imagine if the automotive industry collaborated and shared knowledge as freely as brewers do. I’m picturing myself in a car that looks a bit like a classic super safe & comfortable Saab, with the speed of a Ferrari and the electric power of a Tesla.

It’s evident from the good feeling and sharing of knowledge at the congress that brewers are really good at this already. In such a competitive market, it’s an inspiration that rival brewers brew together to create collabs and explore new techniques together.

We do feel that UK brewers are also at the cusp of an even bigger collaboration. With Big brewers being able to take advantage of market share and economies of scale they are crushing the commercial viability of many smaller independent brewers. Sam McMeekin from Gipsy Hill, as well as obviously being a whizz at data crunching and excel spreadsheets, has identified the advantages that independent craft brewers will have if they work together to lobby government to level the playing field. It’s obviously a tall task—at one point even defining ‘craft beer’ seemed beyond the speakers—and there are already UK wide groups like SIBA & CAMRA that have up until now struggled to get the leverage they need to make real change. However, the combined might of an industry that is already teaching us all how tasty collaboration can be is sure to succeed.

Brewery Culture Can Be Used For Good

One of the best parts of the Brewers Congress was seeing what brewers are doing for their communities all the way from a local level to a global level. Gabe Barry from Brooklyn Brewery gave us a great history lesson regarding beer and its power to bring communities together. Describing pubs and taprooms as shared spaces where people can interact and talk with others shines a positive light on the kinds of places we may take for granted, and she encouraged us to view a good beer scene as having potential for positive change. This is before we even look at all the charitable donations made by breweries across the UK and beyond. The grassroots nature of most craft breweries tends to foster an attitude of generosity and sharing, which is a great thing to see.

Embrace Your Controversial Opinions

The brewers congress was also a safe place for people to voice some more controversial opinions, and you know what, people were all too nice—or tipsy—to get angry about it. Here are a few of our faves:

‘You know these Citra IPA’s everyone is drinking, don’t you think they taste just like the lager & lime we used to drink in the 70’s’
Miles Jenner, Owner of Harveys Brewery

‘Sell your brewery, and you will go to beer heaven’
Anders Kissmeyer, Nørrebro Bryghus

‘We should be looking to America to get a healthier balance between Craft Ale & Big Brewers as Craft’
Sam McMeekin, Gipsy Hill Brewing

‘Craft beers are all under-baked and worty’
Rod White, Assistant Professor (of brewing) at University of Nottingham

‘I try to feel what my yeast feels like sometimes’
Yvan De Baet, Cofounder & Brewmaster, Brasserie De La Senne

‘You can’t get drunk with eye shots, or soaking your feet in vodka’
Dawn Maskell, Director of the International Centre for Brewing and Distilling at Heriot-Watt University

Brewing excellent beer is no longer enough

This title is lifted from a great talk by Anders Kissmeyer, global brewing titan, best known for his work with Carlsberg and Nørrebro Bryghus. His point was that in today’s saturated market, making excellent beer is a given. Especially in the ‘craft’ space, uniqueness and individuality is key. This of course is not just in your beer flavours, but also the personality you present, be that via your brand or the way you communicate to consumers. This might explain the habit a lot of craft brewers have taken to keep pushing for new flavours, new hops, new techniques.

This habit however was much derided by many speakers at the congress. Mark Tranter from Burning Sky brewery said “People want you to make something new; you just want to make something good.” The practice of squeezing as many hops as you can into a brew, with tonnes of fruit etc… seems to be becoming a dangerous ‘my penis is larger than your penis’ competition (ahem, Yvan De Baet’s words, not ours).

As a branding studio we see that uniqueness and personality are more than just your core product, it’s the story you share with the consumer, the journey you take them on. Although, as Roger Ryman (brewing director at St Austell’s) says, “Marketing will get people to try a drink once… good beer makes them want to drink more”. The tough truth here is you need to do both, make excellent beer and then develop an excellent way to tell the consumer about it.

GDFS (Good Design Fun Squad) 2019

29.11.19

Graphic Design Festival Scotland is over for another year, and O Street has had a blast. We had Tessa dishing out wisdom pearls at the Nitty Gritty event, and Jonny and Anna mentoring the 2-Day Live Project. It’s been a fine year.

The Nitty Gritty event gets a panel of Scottish design industry mavericks together, and lets the audience fire questions at them with varying levels of intensity. It’s basically the Scottish design industry version of Question Time, but less Conservative party plants and a more fearsome host (James Gilchrist of Warriors Studio).

Tessa did a great job fielding questions on (amongst other things) the best and worst aspects of her day to day jobs, and how we can increase the number of female creative directors in the industry (spoiler alert it’s currently only 14%!) , as did the rest of the panel; Beth Wilson from Warriors Studio, Lisa Goldie from Whitespace, Andrew Dobbie from MadeBrave, Andrew Stevenson from Tangent, and freelancer Tiernan Crilley (whose pre-recorded presentation about working as a designer with ADHD blew us away!) We swear Tessa was there, but this is only photo Anna managed to get, so you’ll have to take our word for it.

We really enjoy being part of this event, it’s the exact kind of thing that helps bring transparency in the design industry. The event aims to be unpretentious, which is important when hosting panels with successful designer folk; we are all human, we can all be dummies from time to time, and we’re all in the same boat at the end of the day (the HMS Silly Billy).

Surprisingly no one quizzed the panel on how they were planning to save the world from the current climate crisis using graphic design, but luckily one of our live project mentees addressed that exact issue (read more below). Thank god for the young’uns.

The Live Project is two days of inspiration, hard work, stress, stress eating, and good times facilitated by graphic designs. This year, the brief was tackled by 11 groups of 10-12 people, which a winner from each group then presenting to a panel of judges to compete for the overall 3rd, 2nd and 1st prizes. The Judges this year were Paul Scharf from GF Smith, Alistair Hanson from It’s Nice That, and Katie Guthrie from her talented self.

For each group, there is a different mentor studio from the Scottish design scene. We were sharing a room with our talented industry peers, Jamhot and Ilka. The mentors’ job is to guide the group members in their decision making, and make sure they are keeping to time and not getting stuck in a creative rut, which didn’t happen very often as our group just stormed on with their respective visions!

It’s Nice That set the brief this year, which was “Where is home? Create something inspired by what you identify with as home.” OOF! That’s a biggie! But every single one of our team hit it out the park, responding with creative, funny and personal work. In only two days!

We ended up picking Natalia Zajdel for first place, Ben Oliphant for second and the standard was so high that we had to give Tamara Lau a placement too, because we’re massive softies!

Oh, did we mention that Natalia, our Live Project group winner won the whole freakin’ thing? As alluded to earlier in the blog, Natalia’s pitch was about saving our collective home; Earth. “If your home was flooded, on fire, or being robbed, you’d do something about it. Those things are happening to our home on a daily basis!”

Entertaining the theory that aliens created Earth and passed it down to humans, her final output was a manual from the old tenants of Earth (unidentified extra-terrestrials) to the new tenants of Earth (us), telling us how to stop ruining their old place. She tackled a heavy and potentially exhausting subject with levity and originality, and presented it in a beautiful and simple way. She’s a worthy winner in our eyes! SHE DONE GOOD!

As you can see, we had a great time this year at GDFS, and hopefully we’ll see you there in 2020. Peace!