Offset 2014: Be the Ferret

Craftmanship, the rise of ‘making’, creativity in public spaces and lessons learned from small animals. John Barton on Offset 2014.

28.03.14 | Opinion

By John Barton

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The Fifa ferret is unlikely to make an appearance at this year’s World Cup in Brazil. He is an unglamorous and unwelcome outsider to the beautiful game.

But he made such an impact at this year’s Offset that I’m raising him to the lofty position of unofficial mascot of this year’s Dublin festival.

It was Saturday afternoon, day two of the event, and the brilliant Illustrator Jon Burgerman - in one of the highlights of the whole event - had us all in stitches throughout his talk by suggesting that we take a lead from the small uncelebrated mammal. “Be the ferret” was Burgerman’s rally cry, as he played a clip that showed the ferret infiltrating its way onto a football pitch midway through a game, throwing the contest into chaos as players chased after it in an attempt to catch it.

In a sport where rules and regulations dominate, this unexpected event (or “happy accident” as Burgerman referred to it) when put in the context of creativity, creates a powerful metaphor. Unpredictability and surprise can be a great tool declared Burgerman. Doing something different, and away from the norm, can lead to something much more compelling and innovative.

Jon Burgeman 

Jeff Greenspan had a similar outlook, with a talk that centered on engagement in public spaces through self initiated guerilla campaigns such as dividing a pavement in New York into two, creating a tourist lane and a New Yorker lane (segregation!). He also created the Hipster trap - bear traps around the city containing hipster items such as sunglasses and a Holga camera. Greenspan had the ability to create his own world, bringing others with him on the journey, with often hilarious consequences.

Jeff Greenspan

This way of thinking was touched upon throughout the weekend, with an underlying theme of handcraft and ‘making’ which made Offset feel more personal and more engaging than other similar events I’ve been to.

Sarah Illenberger showed how she uses craftwork to create genius art from everyday objects, creating quirky and tangible work that creates unexpected visual links. 

Saturday afternoon we were treated to a rare interview with design icon Milton Glaser. Glaser, now in his 80s spoke to Steven Heller and offered a blunt and somewhat cynical view on the behaviour of today's industry leaders. He spoke of his dismay at the habits of practitioners and the failure to use design for the good of society. Reminding us of the power of design beyond adding commercial value to client work.

Saturday drew to a close with the perfect reply to Glaser’s interview with the introduction of local artist Maser. Maser, a graffiti artist and sign-writer spoke of social consciousness and not personal success. He showcased that positive messaging communicated through graffiti could inspire and connect with the public on a large scale. His collaboration with poet Malcolm London (who performed live on stage) was a festival highlight.

Jessica Walsh also spoke passionately on craft, or ‘play’ as she described it. She then raised it again - to ‘the highest form of research’ and so the wave to elevate craft continued. Craft became the king of Offset: “The more fun I have with my work, the more people respond to it”. She saw the computer and technology as a useful tool, but no more. Embracing technology without letting it drive the idea is important. It’s a philosophy we have embraced at Uniform, from our experiential work for clients, through to the ethos of our R&D workshop.


As a designer it was refreshing and inspiring to hear creatives with a completely different skillset to myself talk about their work. Great designers with inspiring presentations about incredible work, all washed down with a Guinness or two in one of my favourite cities.

We’ll be back next year for sure. 

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