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Our thinking

What makes a good talk at OFFF?

Alex Blyth

Managing Partner

For brand designers, getting a speaking slot at OFFF is a big deal. It’s one of the most competitive gigs on the circuit, with organisers receiving far, far more applications than they have speaking slots.

And it’s easy to see why. I recently spent three days at its flagship Barcelona event (it holds smaller events throughout the year in Vienna, Mexico City, and Seville), and loved every minute. For starters, Barcelona in the Spring (April this year, May next year) is an immediate draw for anyone from the UK (the first day saw hordes of pale-skinned designers marveling at the yellow orb in the sky).

Then there’s the venue. Barcelona’s Design Centre is a beautiful setting - a main hall, an outside tent and an excellent lecture theatre each hold several hundred, and talks are screened onto giant screens on a lake just outside the venue where anyone can sit on the stone steps and soak up the design expertise.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, everyone from the world of brand design is there. There are talks from leading agencies: BUCK to Koto, Ragged Edge and many more, as well as in-house teams like Sky Creative, and design legends like Stefan Sagmeister. All of their talks are packed, but so is almost every single one of the 60 or so talks across three days. And it feels truly global, with speakers and delegates from right across the globe.

You can certainly see why brand designers are so keen to be up on those stages.

So, what are the talks that land the gigs there?

Broadly I saw three types of talk. The most common was the creds deck. Vincent Lammers, ECD at BUCK, gave us a flythrough of his life story, a look at three of the firm’s best projects – We Are Playground, GitHub and Niantic (all incredible work) – and showed how the six-studio agency is rapidly shifting from animation to brand strategy.

Radim Malinic of Brand Nu Studio gave us a beautifully illustrated tour of his career from design to book authoring and finally creating a coffee brand. The team at Sky Creative wowed us with their work on The Greatest Show on Earth.

A second type of talk offered advice to the audience. James Greenfield, Managing Partner at Koto urged us to be optimistic, to embrace change, and always search for the element of surprise. Patrick Duffy, ECD at DICE drew out learnings from an incredibly varied career, culminating with the wisdom of Ferris Bueller: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

However, it was a third type of talk that really got the audience talking – not only at the bar afterwards but on social media for days afterwards. Those were the talks that used the platform to make the case for something bigger than their own work or the audience’s careers.

For me, the most striking of these came from Max Ottignon of Ragged Edge. He argued that we as designers need to recognise the age of convergence we live in and its attendant commoditisation of creativity. We need to act now to take back control of creativity from the robots, bringing branding back to its core purpose: from conformity to difference, from aesthetics to ideas.

It’s the talk that weeks later lives on in my mind. It’s the one that people still mention to me. So, while creds decks and careers advice can land you one of those coveted OFFF speaking gigs, if you really want to stand out and make the most of the opportunity I’d urge you to do more, to think how you can use the platform to make the case for positive change.

A last thought: look beyond design conferences. There are many good reasons to be at OFFF, but if you’re looking to reach potential clients, look more broadly at sector-specific and business conferences. When the brand design agencies we represent speak at those events they very often leave with a handful of good new business leads.

But that certainly shouldn’t deter you from trying to land a speaking gig at OFFF, or at the very least attending it to meet and learn from peers, as well as to enjoy that Catalan sunshine – I’ll look forward to seeing you there next year!

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