Semi Permanent 2018
Semi Permanent is LIKE 'SPLENDOUR IN THE GRASS' FOR DESIGNERS AND VISUAL ARTISTS.
The annual festival brings creatives of every stripe from across the globe, to the Southern Hemisphere. This year’s event included people repping a spectrum of agencies and brands: MONA, Nike, Netflix, Pentagram, AirBnb and AKQA.
We sent some of our crew out to Carriageworks to absorb as much as they could over the two days. Between the ‘free’ biscuits (which turned out to be ‘three’), requests for ultra-alternative milks, lost phones and attempting to decipher a certain junior animator’s handwriting (see above), they found a trove of insights, stories, inspiration and a readiness to push projects beyond expectations.
Here’s a few treasures they came back with:
1. “Be a neophyte…”
Paula Scher (Pentagram’s graphic designer extraordinaire) mentioned this in respect to approaching creative work. Be a novice, treat everything with the wonder of the first time. It’s a good lesson to be reminded of when working in the same medium: find ways to stay curious. We look to people doing ambitious work all the time so that we can unpick how they might have achieved something.
The approach of the neophyte was echoed by Ajaz Ahmed of digital product agency, AKQA, who spoke about serendipity. This theme underpinned his journey from teenage hopeful to agency founder to navigator of tumultuous business waters, highlighting the embrace of opportunity at every turn. I’s a lesson that experience teaches you best but keeps teaching you: find fortune in situations that challenge you. It’s far worse to find yourself successful in situations that are too familiar.
2. “Beware the lollipop of mediocrity. Lick it once and you will suck forever.” – Brian Wilson
These words came to us care of Ajaz Ahmed, and are a haunting thought for anyone involved in creative feats. It was supported by another idea that was bandied about: if people don’t love or hate your work you’re not pushing it hard enough.
To reach people you have to provoke them, not placate them.
3. The unreal reel
Perhaps the most audacious but “damn, that’s smart” anecdotes was from Nash Edgerton, actor, director, editor and stuntman. Fresh from directing and producing his own feature for Amazon Studios, he was a delight to listen to.
Our favourite story was about how he and his brother, Joel, got their start by filming their own showreels. Instead of waiting to get the parts that could get them a good reel, they made the reel that would get them parts. It’s the equivalent of a budding designer doing spec and personal projects to show their interest and versatility long before they land their first gig.
4. Build on the past, don't bury it
National Geographic partnered with Godfrey Dadich for their rebrand, reaching out to Wired magazine for an unexpected but fitting consultation. It would've been a fantastic challenge: taking a dated brand intimately associated with a dwindling format, and moving it in a direction that could engage a new generation in a new way. But Nat Geo has many natural strengths too: a recognisable brand, built on powerful imagery, and a subject matter that speaks to contemporary environmental concerns.
Their brand refresh encapsulated all these tensions and talents. It's true to the print origins of the brand, while being infinitely open to digital applications.
And, by the way, National Geographic is the most popular brand on Instagram. They make content that moves across print and digital while maintaining depth, a pioneering spirit and provocation. So their branding works hard for them on the page and screen.
5. If you’re doing it for free you can do it better
Pro bono work for worthwhile organisations feels good for giving a voice to brands that don’t always get the budget to have a voice. When you take on these types of projects you have to make them louder, with less. But that’s no reason to skimp.
Paula Scher , among others, talked about how pro bono work is important for flexing the full extent of your creative abilities, reaping more opportunities along the way. Her work for the Highline is exceptional for being very, very clever but very, very simple. That visual identity has marked New York City in a way that very few brands could ever do. It’s work that builds a legacy, and this is the lens that we need to take to all pro bono projects.
That’s just a sampler of the stories and examples that the team brought back to share. This year's Semi Permanent was filled with so much passion and optimism that we can’t help but feel reinvigorated and willing to push an idea a little outside its comfort zone.