In Barcelona, graphic designers get their hands dirty

BARCELONA -- The 2013 OFFF Festival of design didn't focus on its high-tech roots, but on pushing artists to revisit the hands-on origins of creativity.

Barcelona Design HUB (left), Torre Agbar

BARCELONA -- A sea of 20- and 30-somethings in wire-rimmed glasses and mismatched clothes looking through their iPods and long-lens cameras crowded into empty museum galleries as captive audiences. More than 2,500 graphic designers, developers, illustrators, and other digital artists flocked to the OFFF Festival each day not for an omnipresent Spanish job fair, but to be inspired -- to go off on their own, to work with their hands and to collaborate with each other on pet projects.

The OFFF Festival, with the tagline "Let's feed the future," is a post-digital culture festival held annually in Barcelona, New York, Lisbon and Paris. The Barna rendition ran from June 6 to 8 at the brand-new, not-open-to-the-public-yet Barcelona Design HUB.

This was not your typical elbow-rubbing art event, where the speakers talk about how their art is derived from Dali or how many awards they've won. The majority of the speakers didn't just share their successes or failures, but took their audience on a journey through their methods, madness, and works in progress. They focused not just on the big paid gigs, but also on sharing their personal projects, as well as the story of how they interacted with other artists.

An audience member shows Laura Meseguer his typefaces.

Typographer and graphic designer Laura Meseguer spoke to a packed room of on Saturday afternoon, taking the audience through the unique process of creating a typeface. The Catalan native said that, unlike Steve Jobs, she's not a calligrapher, but is practicing it now to better understand the shapes of the letters she designs. "What I do is transfer this learning into something more graphic," she said.

Those of us Luddites, who just look at fonts as letters, may have no idea of the layers that go into creating a new typeface, including numerous mini-layers to connect the letters. Meseguer talked of her process from just the previous week when she was asked to redesign the logo of the innovative and award-winning Catalan olive oil company Dauro, which is looking to renew its identity. The presentation focused on the not-so-simple designing of the letter D and ended with huge cheers from about a thousand people.

Esteban Diacondo and his Motion Graphics team shared their yet-to-be-aired series of 3-D animated, five-second ads for the Nickelodeon channel. They went into detail with each step, from hand-drawing the funny characters to animating them, to pressing thumbprints into iconic orange clay and scanning it to give those characters a look of claymation. Diacondo refers to the whole process as using handmade thinking and applying the human touch. This was a common theme in the whole conference, which, of course, talked about the many computer-based techniques in the varying digital professions, but zoomed in on adding that personal, human touch, which is often only made when you get your hands a little dirty.

SmartPlanet talked with a group of designers, who traveled from Florence to Barcelona, not looking for work, but to be inspired. The theme Bianca Borri of the Funky Fresh Factory found at OFFF was an interchange of passion and ideas and to "do what you like until the end"; or, as her colleague Alessio Piccini put it, "We have to go after the shit we really want and stop doing the shit we don't want."

The group of friends spoke very strongly against working for agencies that pay their bills, which they believe are killing the creativity and inspiration of their industry. They were there to see the work "of really talented individuals" and to get inspired to re-start personal projects. "Collaborate with the people you meet and then the money may come later," said Leonardo Betti of Leonardo Worx. The group of friends came mainly for the fun and the art.

"Most of the people who spoke here, we already knew their work, but the most important part is the human" part, said Cosimo Lorenzo Pancini of KMZero. Truly, the honored speakers weren't being introduced as gods of the design world nor were they spending their time presenting their greatest accomplishments. The speakers focused not on their successes, but the stuttered step-by-step way they had created their art with trial and error. Most of the speakers were self-deprecating, calling their work "nerdy stuff" as they stumbled with broken English, sprinkling quips in along the way.

The OFFF Festival was one of the first events at Barcelona's new Design HUB, a museum and event space that will soon become the new center of the city's Institute of Culture, which focuses on four design disciplines: spatial design, product design, information design, and fashion. The building, which has been under construction since 2009, is open for select events, but the permanent collection has not been relocated to DHUB yet, although it's expected to be by the end of the year. It's located next to Barcelona's most famous symbol of modern, high-tech architecture, the 38-story Torre Agbar. Designed by the Spanish architecture firm MBM, the DHUB stands on its own next to its phallic neighbor, with its zig-zag windows and Lego-like shape jutting it out over a pool and the Glories Plaza, like a dog standing guard.

OFFF acted as the hipster prologue to the third annual Barcelona Design Festival. From June 11 to July 11, the festival aims to position Barcelona as the up-and-coming design capital of the world, looking to help entrepreneurs and small business compete internationally. If this year's OFFF was any sign, Barcelona is well on its way to capturing this design crown.

Photos: Jennifer K. Riggins

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