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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
A social media post made a splash when designer Mirko Ilic posted an image featuring the vintage logotypes of several famous fashion brands alongside their new logos. His caption simply read, “Interesting logos are being replaced with boring ones. This are the people why are destroying respect for graphic design.”
The post immediately caught fire and was soon being debated across the internet and mentioned in industry leading podcasts such as The Observatory. Reactions tend to fall into two camps:
1 The redesigns are legible, in the tradition of Modernism, and that’s dandy.
2 Graphic design is dead.
We’d like to propose a third option:
3 Brands used to set themselves apart with a logo, but now they’re now differentiating themselves in new and interesting ways.
First, a look at the two initial camps. With its roots in Bauhaus universalism, capital-M Modernism—not to be confused with its generalized cousin ‘contemporary’—stresses legibility. In typography, this tends to express itself in simple, geometric sans-serif typefaces. With Modernism, creativity is thrown in the trash in favor of simplicity and straightforward communication. It’s all KISS (Keep It Stupid Simple), a tagline thrown around so much you don’t need to look far to see it in the comments for this debate:
Modernism has its place in design history, but it’s important to remember that it was a specific movement in the arts and advertising. While there are Modernist principles that will live forever, practicing Modernism like it’s 1960 has become an aesthetic; a statement in and of itself. Many of us are just suckers for its legacy, look, and feel. Some days I’m one of them.
But we have this other camp to contend with: graphic design is DEAD. Burn your black turtleneck and dig your grave.
For many designers, what makes them relevant is their creativity. They’re just as much artists as they are communicators, and graphic design is their opportunity to make a mark on the world. To apply that unique artistry to a brand, and set them apart from their competitors, is the best thing you can do for said brand. Postmodern design took the rigid rules of Modernism and burned them, and in their eyes, for good reason.
Sadly, in these designers’ eyes, brands are embracing cheap Modernist tricks, and buying easy sans serif logos for five bucks. Lazy designers are selling them boring crap, and killing the industry with ‘blanding’.
There’s your two camps.
At O Street we straddle a line between these two theories of practice. Sometimes, you’ve just got to communicate something so nobody shoots their eye out. Break out the Modernism. At other times, we’re itching to dig into our messy art supplies or crazy 3D digital skills, and it’s also the right thing for the client. So, we ride the line between chaos and order. Let’s call it the Design Tao.
What’s most important for us Design Taoists® is asking: “why?”. No matter the brief, the best solution starts with this simple question.
And there’s a big “why” with this logo debate. Something is driving brands to embrace these simple redesigns, so what gives? This brings us to our theory, or third camp: as brand touch-points get more interesting, logos simply hold less weight.
During the age of Modernism, all brands pretty much had the same ways of reaching their audiences. It was the quintessential ‘brand’:
– Business cards
– Print advertising, and later television advertising
– Interior design
Today, it’s probably more like:
– Handheld video content
– Personal social media engagement
– Five second Youtube ads before someone hits ‘skip’
– Spacial design, specific to events and ‘happenings’ for maximum impact
Now, obviously people and brands still hand out business cards now and then, and it’s wise to have a card that’s considered and well made (call us if you want one!). But the landscape has changed, and the terrain where most engagement happens is totally foreign to the design world of decades past.
Brands have realized that logos are no longer the key identifier of their brand: interactions, digital and personal, now reign supreme. For a modern day brand operating on the world stage, a static and stable—that is, boring—logo may be necessary so that crazy things can happen on the periphery where the engagement is at. For every designer who’s sad they’re not being paid to make crazy logos, there’s a very happy designer out there making crazy motion graphics and video content.
An example from the post that set off this debate is Burberry. Their old logo was elegant and iconic. Their new one? Boring as heck; the unveiling even included incredibly self-aware email screenshots about how quickly it was made.
What’s not boring as heck is the accompanying pattern, arguably ugly but certainly not stale. The ways that it will be applied are dynamic, exciting, and interesting. The logo itself? An afterthought.
So there’s our third camp argument: logos are just being swept aside for more interesting audience interactions. Of course, we could be wrong. Maybe brands are just skimping on quality design so they can use up their budgets on celebrity Instagram posts.
We’d rather not be wrong, but if we are, you can bet we’ll ask: “why?”
Last year we treated you to tracks, and this year it’s albums. Being designers and music geeks, we felt a good way to recap our year would be to each pick a favourite album of 2018 and illustrate a cover for it. Have a listen to the top songs from each album on this neat playlist we made here.
I could listen to these three extraordinary artists together on repeat all day, and the studio will testify I do often try to do so. Lucy Dacas, Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers blend their individual dreamy melodies and mournful songwriting in this disarming self-titled first album. They each bring a bit of themselves to the EP—you can get a feel for the driver behind each song as you listen—but their collaborative voices and styles work so well together to create something new. Something that is truly beautiful to listen to.
Parquet Courts, Wide Awake!
Man, I really like Parquet Courts.
Incredibles 2 (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack), Michael Giacchino
I have a confession to make: I don’t really listen to albums as albums anymore. Especially not current releases. Not through any hip effort, it’s just that I kneel before the Almighty Algorithm when it comes to discovering music these days. However, I am more intentionally selective in watching films, and the Incredibles 2 was such a big deal for me that it has straddled multiple genres for being my biggest release of the year. That said, the music is a huge part of what makes it so nostalgic. It’s like if James Bond knew how to have fun, and also played alto sax. P.S. I condemn any & all acapella covers that may be hanging about at the bottom of the album.
Modern Leisure , Super Sad Rom-Com
Some of my favourite music is more than just good tunes, but a trigger that reminds me of a time or a place. This one reminds me of a great few weeks I had in Denver at the end of the summer in 2018. Especially consuming sour beers and chicken wings with my very good friend Hercules Campbell, while discovering this band playing at the bar. (Bonus points for the band having the album on audio cassette on their merch table)
Peter Perrett , How The West Was Won
I’ve always loved the Only Ones, even when everybody said they weren’t cool and they weren’t punk and they weren’t blah, blah, this or that. To me, they were off-beat contrary and catchy as hell and that was good enough. Frontman Peter Perrett just had something going, like he was on his own louche South London planet rock. And he was funny with nice hair too. Thus I noted the Only Ones untimely demise and his subsequent demon struggle of a solo career with some sadness. So listening to 6Music, his deadpan raucous toe-tapping gem of a comeback after all this time was kinda special. It’s the record I thought I’d never hear… and I’m not the only one.
Jon Hopkins, Singularity
Do you remember the first time you put on Jon Hopkins’ Singularity really loud, laid down on your IKEA rug of choice and experienced a head-exploding-body-melting-into-the-floor union with the whole cosmos? No? What are you waiting for?
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.
Fake it till you make it the Orson Welles way: how he gave us a blueprint for getting creative dream projects going with Citizen Kane
A couple years ago, we found ourselves wanting to break into the world of beer packaging. We wanted to do it, we knew we could do it, but we hadn’t done it. And without that sort of work in your folio, it’s tough to get breweries to throw money at you to do it.
So, we faked it.
Fake it till you make it. It’s a cliche. And as usual, it’s a cliche because there’s some truth to it. Here’s a scenario: you’ve got a creative itch to scratch — an awesome idea you’re dying to bring into the world — but you can’t get the support you need to get it rolling, without having shown that you can do it. It’s a catch-22. Enter Citizen Kane.
When Orson Welles was thinking up his masterpiece, he couldn’t find the money to make it. None of the Hollywood big-shots would fund his project. So, he faked it. Welles scraped up some cash, built some DIY sets, and started filming. He created just enough to show execs that it existed. His vision was true. He could do it. They bought in. We know the result — arguably the greatest film ever.
We took a similar route to break into the beer industry. O Street created its own event series combining home-brewed beer, culture and experimental packaging. We were scratching a few at once, but the underlying goal was to create awesome beer packaging to show breweries: