Top tips for talking about your work

Last week I spent a day at the Cheltenham Design Festival. It’s a great event with a packed schedule. If anything there’s almost too much going on – three parallel talk-streams mean you have to make some tough decisions on who to see. But it’s pretty incredible to get all this for a price tag of £20 a day (£10 for students). According to the organisers this is thanks to some very generous sponsorship from local companies like Superdry and Mira Showers.

The sessions I saw were very different in terms of work and theme but all were – in different ways – hugely engaging. I’ve been thinking about some of the ways in which they were successful and some of the lessons that can be learned about presenting work.

Jim Sutherland

Source: Lucy Wilmer

Jim Sutherland

Be interactive

This is the classic audience-involvement trope: ‘Put your hands up if you agree with this statement/have read this book/have seen this work etc’. Hat-Trick’s Jim Sutherland took this a bit further in his presentation by handing out examples of his work, including the Hide & Eek book and Small Creatures designed for the British Heart Foundation. Apparently most of these physical examples weren’t returned but somehow made their way into pockets and bags in the audience… Meanwhile Sutherland’s tactic of offering a pack of typographic playing cards for each question from the crowd led to a lively Q&A session at the end.

Be honest

Tatty Devine co-founder Harriet Vine was particularly candid in her talk about how she built the jewellery brand alongside co-founder Rosie Wolfenden. Vine talked about money issues – such as how she took advantage of Government grants to set up a workshop in Kent (on the advice of her mother). She was open about IP issues, and gave some interesting insights into the social media storm that blew up when high-street brand Claire’s Accessories was accused of ripping off Tatty Devine. And she talked about her fears that increasing use of technology in schools combined with a lack of imagination in teaching was simply leading to pupils just copying designs with laser-cutters rather than creating their own work.

Harriet Vine talks to interviewer Fi Glover

Source: Lucy Wilmer

Harriet Vine talks to interviewer Fi Glover

Have a narrative

One of the most memorable talks I’ve seen recently was Tomato’s John Warwicker delivering a D&AD President’s Lecture. Warwicker presented an onslaught of inspiration and imagery, from London’s Blue Plaques to Japanese typography. The audience left inspired and overwhelmed in equal measure. I was reminded of Warwicker’s talk while watching Morag Myerscough’s Cheltenham session, which was equally rich in inspiration, colour and vibrancy. The main difference though was that with the way Myerscough talked you got much more of an idea of what inspired her, what led her to make decisions, and what the narrative of her work is. Afterwards, Myerscough told me that it’s taken quite a lot of practice to get this narrative into her work, ‘It used to be that the main thing people took away was that there was lots of colour’. Getting this rationale in though, she said, has given her a better idea of what her work is and where it is going.

Be personal

Generally speaking, what the audience at a design talk wants is some personal insight into why the presenter creates the work they do and what drives them. Harriet Vine talked about how she was inspired by her parents, a dressmaker and carpenter, and said, ‘I designed as a child but I didn’t know I was doing it – I didn’t know that was what it was called.’ Jim Sutherland talked about how a great idea or a found photograph can improve his day, ‘not that I’m depressed,’ he points out. He revealed that when he was interviewed for a job at The Partners after graduating he was told his portfolio was one of the worst typographic portfolios the interviewer had ever seen – ‘but you’ve got ideas, and you can learn typography’. Morag Myerscough’s story was one of the most enlightening. She talked about her exotic family background – her grandfather was a clown – and how this family vibrancy contrasted with the grey of her childhood surroundings in Holloway. A direct lineage can be traced from these colourful childhood surroundings to Myerscough’s work today – injecting colour into hospitals, underpasses and brownfield development sites.

Morag Myerscough

Source: Lucy Wilmer

Morag Myerscough

Say why you do it

Often the creative drive can be hard to articulate, and it’s always interesting to see how designers talk about why they design. As well as referring to her upbringing, Myerscough talked about her desire to be involved in communities through her work. Sutherland expressed an almost constant surprise and delight in his ideas and inspiration (so much so in fact that he is leaving Hat-Trick, which he co-founded, to set up his own practice and focus more on personal projects). Harriet Vine, meanwhile, revealed her ambition when she left college: to have an ISBN number and to have her work shown in the Victoria & Albert Museum. She now has both – and an MBE.

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  • Lorne November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

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