Delve into the human side of the creative story with November’s Nicer Tuesdays
Poking into four corners of the industry, we welcomed Zak Group, Annie Lai, Lily Kong and 4Creative’s Lynsey Atkin to discuss landmark projects and what makes them unique as leading creatives.
At November’s Nicer Tuesdays we dived head first into four very different corners of the creative landscape. Starting off with one of the biggest names in graphic design, we then journeyed to a thoughtful photographic exploration on the idea of home, laughed out loud with a self-deprecating illustrator and, to top it all off, got an insight into one of the biggest TV campaigns this year. This is what Nicer Tuesdays November had in store for its lucky attendees. But don’t worry, if you weren’t able to attend, dig in below to find out more on what we learnt from Zak Group, Annie Lai, Lily Kong and 4Creative’s Lynsey Atkin.
Copyright © Lily Kong, 2021
Annie Lai: In Between (Copyright © Annie Lai, 2021)
Zak Group on the design of Fact Magazine “marrying the futuristic origins of music technology with a new wave of visual art practices”
First off, we were greeted by Zak Kyes the founding designer of Zak Group. More than just a design studio, he kicked off his talk by explaining how and why Zak Group is so much more than just a graphic design studio. “We call ourselves an office because anything can happen in an office,” he said. Born and raised in California, Zak grew up surrounded by creative influences (including a celebrated Bauhaus artist he revealed) which later informed Zak Group as a practice. Explaining how the office in turn draws from Bauhaus principles, the founder gave us a taste of how Zak Group works with other people’s words and images to craft these elements into something new entirely.
It’s an office that spreads itself across many facets of the creative industry. Recently, it launched a full scholarship for a Graphic Design Central Saint Martins student from an underrepresented background, covering maintenance and tuition fees in the hopes of diversifying the next generation of industry. Elsewhere, Zak Group is a t-shirt as well as an NTS radio show (featuring voiceovers by Hans Ulrich Obrist), playing music created by visual artists. Taking us through these various iterations, Zak then spoke about its design for Fact Magazine in the bulk of his talk. “Our approach was to think of the magazine as an exhibition in print,” he explained. Working collaboratively to deliver a singular vision which hints to the electronic music publication’s past as well as contemporary design today, Fact’s design lies at the intersection of art and music.
Referencing E.A.T. publication as well as the typeface Eurostyle, and other 1960s design elements which married engineering and art, Zak discussed how Fact was built from many disparate fields united under one design system. Launched at the beginning of this year, the bi-annual music magazine returned after a decade-long hiatus with a bang thanks to the futuristic layouts by Zak Group. With an elastic visual language including a new logo which operates on many different levels, Zak delved into how the design “got rid of hard and fast style guides”, instead, embracing a design where there were no rules. For example, some spreads clash with energetic typographic collisions, while others tell a story through the layering of images. All in all, aiming “to marry the futuristic origins of music technology with a new wave of visual art practices.”
“I see a little bit of myself in the women I photograph and them in me”: Annie Lai captures the in betweenness of home
London-based photographer Annie Lai has always had a complicated relationship with the idea of home. But rather than anxiously dwell on the subject, she creatively explores the matter in her personal ongoing project, In Between. Born in New Zealand and raised in between there and China, the fashion photographer struggles with feeling at home; perpetually seen as either an international student or not quite a native during her cross-cultural upbringing. She talked about how she “has a very strong emotional connection with the place I grew up” and the startling surprise when she saw how much her hometown in China had changed: “I naively assumed that it would be the same as when I left, but it carried on without the people who left.” She reflected on how “my idea of home was taken away before I could prepare for it,” leaving her with unresolved feelings of where to place her idea of home.
In turn, Annie started In Between as a way to connect with other women of the Chinese diaspora experiencing similar things in London. She takes their picture in their temporary homes, glimpsing a small fragment of their life which intersects with Annie’s own. The photographer detailed the differences between working on this highly personal series in comparison with her other work as a fashion photographer. With this work, it is all about the connection with the subject. She ascertains common details of their homes which overlap with hers, and draws out these intricacies in the subtle, organic and intimate shoots.
“I hope that if I caught images through my camera, they would last longer than in my memories,” she said. Annie also talked about how so many of our memories are shaped by old photographs. In some ways, these images become the memories themselves and in a similar way, Annie wants her portraits in In Between to signify the homes and lives of the subject’s captured in that very moment. Through the series, Annie speaks volumes about the women caught between being permanent residents and fleeting visitors. “We want to carry on here,” she said on her time at university in London, “but being in the creative industry, the government makes it very difficult.”
Lily Kong on making an illustrated joke without making fun of others’ pain
Third up to the Nicer Tuesdays stage was Lily Kong, an illustrator that had us chuckling every step of the way during her talk on the importance of humour. “I really enjoy making fun of myself and things around me,” she said. “I capture the joyful happy moments from our daily lives.” Taking us through her humorous commentaries, which she equated to “a bit like memes” making fun of herself, Lily detailed how she finds ways of seeing upsetting or stressful situations in completely new ways. In her relaxed tones, she called out: “The beauty of humour is that it breaks our expectations of certain circumstances – it relieves the pain, the loneliness, the stress.”
A self-professed shy introvert, Lily described how illustration offers a shield, so “I don’t need to look anyone in the eyes”. Laughter and smiles ensued throughout Lily’s talks as she rolled out the punchlines of some of her favourite comics to date, as well as some other projects bridging window displays, t-shirt designs and of course, editorials. But it wasn’t all fun and games, as Lily then took us through a recent project created over lockdown and themed on loneliness. “Since 2019 loneliness has been significant in all our lives,” she said. In signature Lily style, she took the piss out of the topic, relieving the pain of isolation with a project which connects viewers titled I am fine; a phrase she loves because it’s full of denial, but self-affirmation too.
Participants can submit their stories of loneliness which Lily then illustrates on a postcard and then sends to another. Calling everyone in the audience to “channel your humour through some kind of medium and something you’re interested in,” Lily showed first hand how you can step out of your comfort zone and turn something as deep and confusing as loneliness into an artistic expression. A crafty demonstration of how you can “make a job without making fun of other’s pain”, the project features stories of dead hamsters who’ve left hamster shaped holes in the heart, and a group of friends who love to talk about art but one person in particular doesn’t get the lingo.
“Does it feel human? Does it have soul? Do you believe it?” 4Creative on the campaign behind the Paralympic Games 2020
Last, but certainly not least, was 4Creative’s executive creative director Lynsey Atkin. In a whopping talk which crammed a gargantuan three year project into 15 minutes, the creative took us through the ins and outs of Channel 4’s Paralympics 2020 campaign. “There are those briefs that you see and you think ‘I’d love a crack at that’ and then you get a crack at it and feel sick for two years,” she opened with, outlining the magnitude of the campaign. A campaign that has seen Channel 4 redefine how the UK perceives disability, the extensive marketing and broadcasting rollout has been a cultural triumph since Channel 4 first obtained rights to showing the games. “The Paralympics were seen as an afterthought that no one watched,” she expounded, “shifting positive attitude towards disability in this country.”
With a mountain of pressure on the team to create the best campaign yet, Lynsey took us through the various ideation routes that eventually became Super.Human. Fundamentally, the three minute film shows the human essence of the six athletes involved. Celebrating the athletes at the core of who they are – human beings – the short shines a light on the sacrifice and work ethic that takes to become a Paralympian. The script was collaboratively written with 20 different para athletes who helped shape the authentic narrative of the build up to the games, and once this story arch was defined, the visual decisions came into play to beautifully communicate the script to the viewer.
Directed by Bradford Young and produced by Elena Camisa through production companies Serial Pictures and Somesuch, the artistic vision referenced philosophical concepts such as the sublime while cleverly enact cinematic tropes to accessibly tell the story. Lynsey took us through mood boards which featured a dream sequence from The Big Lebowski while other treatments exacerbate the essence of the human condition which is artfully teased out in a subtle manner throughout the film. There are pockets of humour achieved through props, a sense of rawness and pain that is essential in becoming a world-class athlete and so many more hits of emotion that make this film so captivating and enagaging. In a whirlwind tour of other work in process moments from fake deep fakes, a sick bucket, camera shots, fake bruisers, blisters and so much more; Lynsey’s Nicer Tuesdays talk was a masterful lowdown of what goes into one of the biggest television campaigns of the year. As she put it finally, “It came down to: does it feel human? Does it have soul? Do you believe it?”
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