Designs for life - and everything else


Ireland might not have much of an international reputation as a design hub, but as animators, artists, film-makers and illustrators gather in Dublin for a major event this week, that looks set to change

‘WE’VE PUT our money where our mouths are, because we wanted to put on something creative that people genuinely want to come to,” says Bren Byrne director of Offset. The event, which takes place in Dublin this weekend, gathers together artists, illustrators, film-makers, animators, publishers and musicians to generate ideas, cross-pollinate across different media and “showcase creativity”.

It was set up by Byrne with Richard Seabrooke and Peter O’Dwyer last year. The group started out as Candy Collective, putting on talks, discussions and club nights and taking events to Berlin, New York and Copenhagen. All three work as creative professionals (Byrne is an illustrator; Seabrooke and O’Dwyer are designers) and after organising a SweetTalk event at the Electric Picnic a couple of years ago, figured it was time to up their game.

“We had 50 or 60 guest speakers over one weekend and that gave us a flavour of how to expand and organise something bigger. We wanted to scale it up and make this a career,” says Byrne.

When people think of design hubs, New York and Berlin head the list, but Byrne thinks our international reputation is changing.

“Traditionally, Ireland’s creativity focused more on spoken and written work than the visual side of things, but now you have animators like The Cartoon Saloon and Brown Bag [both nominated for Oscars earlier this year] changing that perception. There is also this association with design as a commercial art, not a fine art.

“We want to show Ireland’s reputation is improving and we’re taking our storytelling into an international medium.”

Byrne believes design and illustration don’t get much recognition in mainstream press, and he cites the unreported wins for Irish illustrators Chris Haughton and Jonathan McHugh at the recent Association of Illustrators Awards in the UK.

Offset has an ambitious agenda, with 50 hours of programming in two rooms at Dublin’s Grand Canal Theatre over three days this weekend.

There will be lectures, panel talks, debates and workshops, with guests ranging from Scott Dadich, creative director of Wiredmagazine on the future of publishing to original Mad Menad exec, George Lois, who designed the Esquirecovers from 1962-72 and saved MTV with his I Want My MTV campaign.

Ireland is well represented with stylist Celestine Cooney and animator David J O’Reilly participating (he recently lectured at Pixar).

While the hive mind of creative types buzzes, one of the most fundamental questions to address will be employment in the industry.

During a recession, creative industries can be more vulnerable than most. Many argue that art prospers in tough economic times but people also need income and jobs, something that the weekend will tackle.

“The design industry, like a lot of things, is under a lot of pressure. We’re trying to focus on the positive aspects and we programmed our second room with talks to encourage people to promote themselves,” says Byrne. “If you’re creative, you can’t assume there’s a job for you at the end of college. People should use their creativity and start their own small industry. In these times, money has to go further, so there’s not as much room for taking artistic chances.”

Technology has had a democratising effect on art.

From basic tools such as cameras or animation programmes to more complex internet platforms, there is citizen element to the possibilities.

This, like anything else, presents a wheat/chaff argument that encourages involvement for all, while supporting professionals trying to make a living.

“Technology has certainly opened up avenues, but you need to be good in a certain field,” Byrne says. “The tools are there now and any kid – given the right encouragement – can do this, but there’s a danger in dismissing the role of the professional.

“What we want is for people to go away from Offset feeling positive and inspired.

“A lot of the people in attendance will be working professionals and graduates, because these people are creative in their field and passionate about role of creativity, but it would be great to see people who have an interest in any kind of art, design or music coming along too.”

Our picks: what to see at OFFSET...

DJ Shadow  – interviewed live by The Irish Times’sJim Carroll. Friday 5pm

Scott Dadichof Wired magazine on the future of publishing. Saturday, 5pm

Steve “ESPO” PowersInfluential US graffiti artist who has worked with communities in Dublin and Belfast. Friday, 4pm

Chris Haughton– Irish illustrator discusses how to get a book “from idea to publication”. Sunday, 12pm

Offset takes place from this Friday to Sunday at Dublin’s Grand Canal Theatre with extra events running throughout the week.

For more details and to buy tickets, see