Last night we gathered in East London for another instalment of Nicer Tuesdays: our monthly event of inspiring, insightful creatives talks from across the industry. And what a night it was…
As always, we found ourselves envious of the creative work on display as we laughed at puppets, learned about a certain magazine editor’s choice of trousers, and were even given a glimpse behind the doors of Nasa HQ. While some months present a distinct theme, with talks resonating with each other, the strength of last night’s speakers was in their differences. Throughout the evening, we dipped in and out of myriad creative disciplines, a testament to the breadth of work being produced in this industry.
First up was Kirsten Algera of MacGuffin magazine, followed by photographer Bex Day, graphic designer and creative director of Accept & Proceed Matthew Jones before director at Nexus Studios Johnny Kelly closed the show. Check out what we learned from each of them below.
Design is not just about objects, it’s about stories
Despite nearly not making it to London – her Eurostar didn’t leave Amsterdam resulting in a last minute plane ticket – Kirsten Algera, co-founder of MacGuffin magazine, kicked the evening off with a banger of a talk. A beautifully printed and designed magazine, each issue of MacGuffin focusses on one object, delving into its history and the personal stories associated with it. “MacGuffin is a design magazine that is not about design,” she affirmed.
Kirsten took us back to 2015, detailing the reasons she and Ernst van der Hoeven decided to venture into the world of independent publishing in the first place. “We were inspired, or rather uninspired, by the congested design world we were working in,” she explained. Whereas everything seemed to be geared towards the new, they were much more interested in the afterlife of objects: “Not so much about the design of objects but the stories they generate.” MacGuffin emerged as a way to express these interests, taking its name from a filmic technique associated with Alfred Hitchcock. “A MacGuffin is an object used in Hitchcock films to move the story along,” she told us. To date, Kirsten and Ernst have produced seven issues, the most recent of which is a fascinating survey of the humble trousers.
In a sneak peek of the latest issue (which Kirsten hopes should be on the shelves of shops by now – “we’re always late with our issues… but that’s the fun of being an independent magazine,” she joked), Kirsten outlined some of her favourite contributions. A particular highlight comes in the form of a feature by Gert Jonkers, editor of Fantastic Man on his favourite trousers and the memories associated with them. The piece, which is accompanied by 3D renders of Gert’s old faves, bringing back to life those which were thrown away after a member of Blur expressed a disliking for them, or a puppy tore them to pieces, delves into the personal and physical aspects of trousers. And that’s the crux of MacGuffin. While the issue features myriad images of design objects, the words have nothing to do with the discipline. Instead, they relate to the people who own them, sharing anecdotes and unexpected narratives.
Photography allows you to explore the unknown
London-based photographer Bex Day was next to take to the Nicer Tuesdays stage, with an open and honest run-through of her practice, specifically, the details of her recent series Hen. “My work focusses on identity, diversity, freedom of choice and gender equality,” she explained. “I want to take people out of boxes constructed by society.” With a background in journalism, Bex’s photographic practice is rooted in documentary, allowing her to “explore the unknown” and constantly be pushed out of her comfort zone.
Hen is a series which stemmed from an observation: that the discourse surrounding transgenderism solely focussed on young people, with media largely ignoring the older members of the community. As a result, Hen which takes its name from the Swedish gender-neutral pronoun is a series of portraits of those over 40, accompanied by texts telling each sitter’s story.
Bex reached out to her models on Craig’s List she recalled, a process which began slowly but which picked up the pace “through friends of friends and word of mouth,” resulting in 30 portraits shot over three years. “I would say when I began the project I was extremely naive,” she told us, “I was trying to be a therapist when I’m not trained to be.” As a result, Hen was emotionally taxing for Bex, let alone for her subjects. While one person opened up about their childhood dreams of a sex change, another ran inside during shoot, afraid her neighbours, to whom she isn’t out, would see her. “With Hen, I wanted it to enhance social change and open a platform for awareness,” she said. “If people are more educated hopefully less anti-social behaviour will happen.” She concluded by sharing the trailer for a short film she’s produced to enhance the human aspects of each sitter’s stories even further.
Personal projects can have huge payoff
Next up was the creative director of Accept & Proceed, Matthew Jones, who left the designers in the room squirming with jealousy after giving insight to the studio’s recent work for Nasa. Starting off by detailing the team’s design principles – think as one, find the truth, make it resonate – he outlined: “Why do we have design principles? It’s a lens for us to do everything through. Design doesn’t work in a vacuum.”
Produced for Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Lab, Matthew outlined the project which saw them producing a typeface and an installation centred around the way this department of Nasa tracks the movement of water on Earth. A dream brief for many graphic designers, he explained how the project actually stemmed from the studio’s self-initiated work. Having produced a poster from the data of the moon landings, and later a sculpture from data relating to meteors hitting the moon, Accept & Proceed’s side projects are a way for the team to test themselves. “We didn’t know what the pay off would be but it turned out to be huge,” he remarked.
In a particularly memorable section of Matthew’s talk, he recalled several stories from his visit to Nasa. While on a tour, he was shown an exact replica of the Curiosity Rover. “There’s a rivalry between all the different departments,” he explained. As a result, the Jet Propulsion Lab used the tyres of the Curiosity Rover to spell out JPL in morse code, using the contraption to essentially graffiti the surface of Mars. “We also like to put messages in our work,” he commented, “so we knew we were working with the right people.”
Matthew concluded his talk with some choice words of advice for those wondering how to land briefs such as these: “We can trace the Nasa project back to those personal projects,” he said, “trust your instincts and do what feels good, work things that interest you and work will come your way.”
Creativity is better in a team
Finishing off the evening and leaving everyone grinning from ear-to-ear was director Johnny Kelly. He introduced himself as someone with “a tendency to overcomplicate things, but not done making silly little loops” before proceeding to let us know his talk, which outlined his recent work for Cheerios, would be “a view behind the smelly curtains of puppetry.” A series of adverts, the project saw Johnny working with illustrators Nous Vous and puppet designer Andy Gent to bring to life several prompts for discussions about weighty topics for children. “It was a really lovely brief,” he said.
It was upon hearing the songs for each video, which were all original for the project, that Johnny knew Right on Tracks needed something 3D. “The agency presumed on the budget that it would be 2D, and 2D animation is wonderful but these songs had a really loose, spontaneous feeling. It felt beautifully ramshackle which made me think puppetry.” As a result, he brought together some of his favourite collaborators: “There are a lot of things I love about my job but one of them is the responsibility to gather a team,” he told us.
The rest of Johnny’s talk then proceeded to outline the huge amounts of work, and the amazing number of people, that go into to turning 2D digital characters into four separate short films in just three days. One challenge particularly worth mentioning is how you get a puppet to kick down a bathroom door. Spoiler alert: they managed it!
Myriad talented creatives were mentioned by the director (all of whom you can find here) with Johnny concluding: “These projects don’t come along very often, so I feel very lucky.”