Gathering Inspiration

19.11.21

Where do you find your inspiration?

Here at O Street we like to tackle it with a bit of fresh air. For years, we’ve been keeping our eyes open for visual oddities out-and-about, then sharing them in an aptly named collection: Ospiration. It comes in many forms: the typography on a takeaway menu, a brick wall covered in peeling posters and graffiti, book covers, foreign registration plates, scattered light on a city skyline. Even some quote-unquote old junk found in the attic can be creative fuel (see: Label O’ Love).

Some of our favourite pieces of Ospiration take the shape of aged shop signs, with their effortlessly timeless typographic flair, weathered paint and battered colours that have faded over time. We’re surrounded by a rich history of design, with creative beauty wherever you go.

If you’re ever feeling uninspired, taking your eyes for a walk can do wonders. To get you started, take a look at a few of our top bits of Ospiration collected over the years:

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.

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

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?”

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?