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.

Best of the Brewers Journal

03.04.20

Back when travelling was still a thing, we journeyed from Glasgow to Leeds on a beer-filled adventure. Joining our pals Tim & Jon at Brewer’s Journal, we gave a talk at their Brewers Lectures series. We jump at the chance to speak at these events. There’s always a great crowd and we get to be starstruck by our favourite brewers. (Yes there is a free bar, but it’s not just about that, thank you).

It’s also a great opportunity for us amateur beer lovers to learn a few things from the experts. Here’s a round up of some nuggets from the day.

 

1. The future is NALAB

brewers journal - lallemand

Robert Percival from Lallemand loves talking about sugar structures. He kicked off the day by introducing my clueless self to a new phrase: NALAB. For all you fellow beer newbies out there, that is No Alcohol or Low Alcohol Beer. As the current culture shifts towards more healthy lifestyle choices (mindful drinking, balanced with sport and fitness) more and more breweries are opting to produce beer that is Better For You.

Erdinger (my placebo beer of choice during Dry January) have been running this angle for a while—focusing on the isotonic properties of their beer and even sponsoring sporting events. Having said that, I didn’t see a single hand go up when Robert asked how many folk were currently cooking up a NALAB product. So, either it’s not catching on quite yet…Ooooor everyone is pretending it’s not catching on yet.

 

2. Bigger isn’t always better

brewers journal - northern monk

With such a saturation of craft breweries out in the world at the moment, it’s easy for smaller breweries to feel the need to up the ante. Grow grow grow and sell sell sell. However, Luca Lorenzi, director of growth at Northern Monk, turned this idea on its head by asking the audience to first ‘define what growth means to you’. Then get a good team around you to help make that happen. For Northern Monk, that led to pretty much doubling their sales for the past three years, whilst keeping community and family at the forefront of their journey.

 

3. Craft = Community

brewers journal - brooklyn brewery

At the Brewer’s Congress event we attended, we got schooled by Gabe Barry from Brooklyn Brewery in the history of all things beer and community. This time around, she emphasised how breweries can serve their communities, acting as a platform for bringing folk together. Craft is more than just brewing beer, it’s creating a space to build a community. Now it’s time to bring people in and diversify who gets to be a part of that. With breweries leading the way and changing the world for the better. In conclusion, this made me want to start a brewery immediately.

 

4. If in doubt, DIY.

brewers journal - pressure drop

After we took to the stage to reveal our top tips for designing a beer brand, Sienna O’ Rourke from Pressure Drop followed up. Sienna shared her own play on the top tips she used to create a striking identity for Pressure Drop in-house. Pressure Drop had a turbulent start as an emerging North London brewery and Sienna came on board to pull their visual identity and marketing together with a DIY approach. She established a bright and bold style, creating photos, artwork, collages in-house with the wider team to build a robust look that fits the bill for the ethos of the brewery. Showing that to find your vibe, sometimes you need to look inwards first.

 

5. Beer Goes Beyond Beer

brewers journal – cloudwater

The final speaker for the day was Paul Jones from Cloudwater. Everything he said transformed the audience from beer-drinking brewers to enlightened pioneers. We didn’t even get the chance to take notes on what that involved. Sorry, you just had to be there.

Ultimately, we go to these events aware that our knowledge of beer and brewing only extends to a small area of the industry, and we learn more every time. It’s a great atmosphere, with most craft breweries more than willing to share their story, learnings and give a leg up to the next craft brewer along the road. Or even the knowledge hungry design studio round the corner.

This system of support and community feels more important than ever in this bonkers climate we find ourselves in. Many of these breweries are independently owned, with small teams, who will seriously feel the impact of closed up pubs and tap rooms over the next few weeks. If you feel like getting stocked up whilst you sit in your pyjamas on zoom calls, here’s a helpful list of how you can do exactly that.

Northern Monk have discounts across their cans and cases of Faith on their online shop. Plus for every 12 pack sold Northern Monk are donating £3 to the NHS to support their work on the frontline. Keep the Faith indeed!

Pressure Drop are championing their community and reaching out to support business that will be affected by COVID too. They’ve created a pay it forward scheme—for every order of 15 cans or more they will pay forward £25 in credit to the independent pub, restaurant or retail outlet of your choice. Awesome.

Cloudwater have teamed up with local business Higher Ground to offer veg box delivery and tasty vegan meals through their site.

Brooklyn Brewery are doing an awesome job of sharing resources to support NYC communities and you can still grab your fix from BeerHawk if you aren’t stateside.

Yeastie Boys are offering shipping in the UK for all their beers. Plus they are donating £2 from every single case they sell to #COVID19 Emergency Appeal—a fund to provide grants to hospitality workers suddenly facing hardship. Absolute champs.

North Brewing have an awesome 20% discount for NHS workers and free local deliveries!

You may also have seen a taster of our upcoming rebrand for Stewart Brewing… Their current beer labels are about to become vintage collectables, quick—order up!

Fyne Ales are also keeping Scotland well supplied, with regular offers and discounts on their beautiful designed (ahem) online shop. You can currently get 12 x 330ml bottles of Perfect Silence for £25.

And if you can’t choose, there’s always beer box deliveries that do the choosing for you. Like Honest Brew, Hoppily, BeerBods or Beer52, who even do a cool mag to supplement your beer knowledge too.

So, cheers to that! I’m off to buy more beer.

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.

Is Logo Design Dead?

08.02.19

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
– Letterhead
– 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?”

O Street’s Favourite Albums of 2018, Illustrated

18.12.18

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.

boygenius, boygenius

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.
–Tessa

Parquet Courts, Wide Awake!

Man, I really like Parquet Courts.
–Anna

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.
– Jonny

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)
– David

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.
– Neil

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?
– Josh

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.