As he took the stage at last month’s Nicer Tuesdays, Lovers founder Alex Ostrowski spoke about the importance of making work you care about as he talked through the collective’s recent body of work, an ocean plastics campaign for Greenpeace and a pyjama-based side project.
Alex began by zooming out, taking a look at the shifting professional landscape from which design collective Lovers arose. Commenting on this changing terrain, Alex cites social currency as an increasingly important factor in creative work: “Relationships matter a lot. A reputation has to be real, individually and collectively. Collaboration can’t be cruel.” This social dimension underpins every decision Lovers makes, from the projects it chooses to work on to how it works on them.
For this sprawling collective of over 111 designers, art directors, writers, producers, photographers, filmmakers and “other -ers”, the approach is simple: do work you care about. But it’s only when Alex played a reel of Lovers’ work that the benefit of this attitude began to speak for itself. As projects and behind the scenes clips cycled across the screen, the sense of joy inherent to this work became infectious, and one thing was clear: this isn’t just good work; it’s work that makes you feel happy. As the video came to a close, Alex summed up the simple idea underlying the joyfulness in the work Lovers do: “Working on stuff that you don’t care about doesn’t feel good and is maybe a waste of time.”
This approach, along with Lovers’ collaborative and explorative mindset, naturally provides fertile ground for fun side-projects. Taking us further into the Lovers world, Alex playfully did “a reveal” of an ongoing project, yet to be seen by the outside world. Dreamjams, a set of “pyjama-esque cloaks with the power to help you dream,” is an exploration of the connection between clothes and collective creative power. The brilliantly loud garments (one of which Alex adorned on the night) were developed with the whimsical ambition of creating a new generation of dreamers. Alex used the fantastical nature of the project to reflect on the value of work like this more generally, saying: “That’s the point of a side project, it challenges you to do things that are nonsense.”
On the client side of things, Lovers has worked with institutions including Tate, the V&A and Green Man Festival. In the latter half of the talk, Alex delved into this type of work in greater detail, unpacking a recent identity project with Greenpeace for its ocean plastics activism. When choosing the members of the collective that would work on the project, Alex reflected on the need to pick the person “whose eyes will light up the brightest”. It was a decision that leads to the selection of Paul, a graphic designer in the collective who had explicitly said he wanted to work with Greenpeace previously. The resulting work is gnarly and impactful, finding inspiration in the polluting bottle labels whose typography had been eroded by the sea. The project was a triumph and, combined with Greenpeace’s direct action, it pressured corporate giant Coca-Cola to make changes to its packing standards.
The success of Lovers tells us something both intriguing and reassuring: making things you care about, and caring about the people you make that work with, is key to making work that is good. It’s an encouraging conclusion and the takeaway is one Alex wants to make clear: “When you’re working, notice what you care about and try to factor that into how you work. And if anyone nasty tries to scare you off dreaming, send them to us.”