Reasons to be Creative 2015

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity of attending Reasons to be Creative 2015 in Brighton a couple of weeks ago. I had attended its predecessor, Flash on the Beach, a couple of times but I’d never been to this new incarnation since it started a few years ago. I’m really hoping I will get to go again next year as it’s an amazing event.

The three days consist of some incredibly impressive and inspiring speakers (including artists, illustrators, designers, makers, hackers, developers, film-makers and CEOs), some great ‘how-to’ sessions, demos of latest creative software and a very positive atmosphere of creativity. Even just being in the presence of several hundred other digital creatives is a motivational experience. You feel like you’re in the right place. And it certainly affirmed to me that I am definitely working in the right field, as I felt completely at home. Even if I won the lottery and could retire early I would still come and attend this event each year.

It’s a great location they have as well, in such a creative town as Brighton, with the venue just minutes walk from the beach, the pier, the Lanes and also my fantastic B&B at Guest in the City. A massive hat tip to John Davey and his entire team for putting on such a great event. Everything about it was so professional, friendly and welcoming.

Some highlights for me…

Dominic Wilcox

Dominic is incredible. A tour de force of original thinking. He was a great speaker too. Although billing himself as an introvert he had a great stage presence and a lovely dry sense of humour. This session was worth the price of admission on its own. He has a very practical and hands-on sense of design which is illustrated by his hydraulic grabber made using syringes, a great illustrative style as demonstrated by his slide titles and quirky little animations, and a wonderfully anarchic imagination as shown by most of his work, such as the headphones that make your left ear hear what is coming from your right hand side and vice versa. I also really loved the eyes on his robot cereal spoon. The animation on those eyes totally brought that inanimate object to life in such a fun way. Make sure you watch the short film about him below. So refreshing to see a creative mind like this at work. It makes me very happy that there are people like Dominic Wilcox in our world.

Website –
Twitter –
Video (a must watch) –
Robot cereal spoon –
Book –

Noma Bar

I would go so far as to say that Noma is a genius in his particular field. His illustrations are so, so clever and he has done it so many times that it is definitely not a fluke. He is able to portray someone’s personality using just a handful of lines and he is a master of the use of negative space to combine images in creative ways. He has the ability to make things seem so simple that you think ‘Oh yeh, I could do that.’ But having done caricatures in the past I know just how hard that is, and Noma’s style is the purest form of that art. This session came right before Dominic’s and combined to make the most inspiring 2 hour session of the event.

Website – just shows his cool dog/cat/mouse image –
Twitter –
Chicken Mouth –
Other images –
Book –

Jane ni Dhulchaointigh from Sugru

I was very aware of the Sugru product before I attended the event but I hadn’t used it yet. I knew nothing about the company or the CEO so I was fascinated to find out that the CEO was a young Irish woman who had attended art school (the same school as Dominic Wilcox interestingly – small world). It doesn’t really surprise me now though because it’s such a clever product and so cleverly marketed that I think it really had to be a creative person behind it who was able to think outside the box and not be restrained by normal parameters. Jane’s session was great as it showed how the company was founded, had extremely practical lessons to be learned, demonstrated some extremely clever and creative ideas and also managed to include many inspirational quotes such as “You don’t have to be an expert. Learn it”, “Start small, make it good” and “Design for impact, not just for the thing itself”. I wasn’t expecting to hear from a speaker like this on the event, so it was a hugely pleasant surprise. It’s great to hear from designers who have made a real impact in the business world.

Website –
Twitter –
Video –
Magnet Kit –

John Hicks
Very interesting to hear John speak, as he is the illustrator behind such great logos as Firefox and Mailchimp.

James Hall – Security
An extremely enlightening, and sometimes depressing (not James’ fault) look at how to keep yourself more secure online. Basically if someone wants to hack you, they will. There are ways you can make it harder for them, but if someone wants to hack you, they will. Extremely eye-opening, and I rarely used the public wifi after this session!

Ros Horner – Setting Goals
This session was great as a motivational, get off your arse and do it, goal setting session. I joined in and submitted my goal which was to build a retro arcade machine of my own.

Yuko Shimizu
Great talk by Yuko, about how you are never too old to reach for your dreams.

Danny Yount
This was another huge name for the event. Danny is the creative mastermind behind movie titles including the Iron Man movies, RocknRolla and Sherlock Holmes. Very interesting to see behind the curtain of someone actually working in Hollywood.

How-to Sessions…

Mike Brondbjerg – Using Data in your Creative Process
Mike did a great session on using data in your creatively. I’m very interested in Data Visualisation and his sessions focussed on using some Javascript techniques to help you create interactive display methods. I just loved his approach and how he built up his demo step by step from a very simple start to make sure people were following along and then adding layer upon layer of complexity. Some fantastic examples of his work (mentioned in a very relevant way) including the vector polygonal images of US Presidents.

Chris Gannon – Animating SVGs
This was a real highlight for me from the event, in terms of practical takeaway skills. Chris demonstrated how to create an SVG animation. SVGs are really hot right now, as a very light way to have scalable graphics online, and while there aren’t a huge amount of tools to animate SVGs Chris demonstrated the fundamental theory behind it whilst taking us through a cute little animation step by step. You copy the elements on screen in your Adobe Illustrator file, paste this into a blank text editor to clean up the code manually, then you put this into Codepen, with the help of Greensock, where you can directly manipulate the Javascript to animate the piece using code. This method really gets me excited as it’s the perfect marriage between left and right side brain thinking. Cute graphics with raw code. Chris presented brilliantly and it was a hugely enjoyable, as well as educational, session. Check out his Dribbble page. I just find those animations so pleasing to watch.

The Elevator Pitch
3 minutes to speak on stage in front of the whole event audience and pimp your ideas. Pretty nerve-wracking but 20 people put themselves through this for a chance of telling people about what they do or in the hope that they might be asked to come back and present a full session next year. There were some really interesting people here that I am certainly going to explore more of their work. It’s even given me the incentive to perhaps put myself forward to speak one year. Just not sure what my topic or subject matter would be yet!

Martin Hollywood
Thoroughly enjoyed Martin’s session. Some of the things he has made are fantastic examples of what you can do with Raspberry Pi’s and Arduino boards. And I also loved his Google poetry. Plus he’s Scottish which is always a bonus.

Adam Butler
Adam controlled a drone live on stage using the numerical pad on his iPhone. It must be scary enough doing a pitch on stage, let alone using live technology like that.

Mr Phil
Very cool illustrations from Mr Phil. I seriously think he should do a colouring book. I’d buy it!

Mark Robbins
I found Mark’s presentation very impressive indeed. He was showing advanced CSS techniques in order to perform cool tricks inside emails. Pretty cool stuff and I’m going to contact Mark to find out more.

In summary, Reasons to be Creative is a fantastic event and one I can’t recommend highly enough. I’ve come away with so much motivation inspiration I’m bursting to the brim with cool ideas. My main challenge is what to play around with first… illustrations, SVG animations, data viz javascript, title animations, Raspberry Pi solutions. Who knows where Reasons to be Creative will take me. I know it will be somewhere interesting though!

Authenticity in Design


I attended a conference today in London today called Point. The main focus was around authenticity in design, and the first speaker, Lucienne Roberts addressed this point very well.

Is there a point at which graphic design makes a project lose its authenticity and becomes clinical or false? This is a very interesting question. Lucienne cited an example of her favourite coffee shop in Europe which had a very rustic and personal feel. But one day she went there and they had manufactured some well designed coffee mugs with a stylish logo on them and had even produced a coffee table book about the venue. They had in essence had a brand identity designed. Lucienne’s immediate reaction was that this made the cafe lose some of its authenticity, some of its rawness.

Lucienne then moved on to explain how she was involved in the branding of David Miliband’s campaign for leadership of the Labour Party in the UK. They produced a very fresh, slick graphical identity to communicate the message that David Miliband wanted portrayed. When she showed their brand against the other contenders’ brands it looked by far the most professional. Some of the others looked quite amateurish in comparison. But the fact remains that David Miliband didn’t win. When they did a post mortem on the campaign the graphic design was actually one of the areas they looked at to see if that had had some kind of unexpected negative effect. Perhaps the professional nature of the design took away some of the authenticity of the campaign and made it less approachable, less down to earth. And in the world of politics that can be very important.

Does design always have this effect? By its very definition design is something that is done with a purpose and is therefore contrived. You can lose the heart or personality that would otherwise come with either natural spontaneity or organic growth. Perhaps the trick is to find the balance and make sure you keep the ‘soul’ of the topic that you are designing.

This ‘soul’ was something that the next speakers focussed on a lot. Sean Rees and Nathan Webb delivered an amazing presentation about the great work they and their company, Purpose, has done on the brand identity of The McGuire Programme which is the speech therapy course that I am a member of. They have created a really fantastic way to communicate the struggle of communication. And well done Sean for getting up on stage and communicating so effectively in control of his own stutter.

The main thing that I took away from the conference was that when designing something the priority isn’t just to make it look cool. If it looks cool that can sometimes be a bonus. But there are also times when something actually shouldn’t look cool, or by making something cool you are creating something new and therefore losing a part of the original. You always need to make sure you retain the heart, personality and truth of the original subject. The design should just communicate those areas more effectively where appropriate.

The process of design is such a balancing act between aesthetic beauty and practical function. That is what makes design so difficult and makes it so powerful when done well.

How I Built This Blog

I thought a nice way to kick off this new blog might be to explain how I made it. One for any webheads out there. The bare bones is the TwentyEleven theme from WordPress. I then made a child theme on top of that which changed a few things such as the width, banner, sidebar, colours etc. It’s a great framework to start from as it is clean, HTML5 compatible, and also responsive. I’ve got mixed feelings about responsive design and I will blog about them in a future post but I thought that I shouldn’t dismiss the technology without experimenting with it first hand on a site that isn’t for a paying client. One area that I had heard could be a bit sketchy on responsive sites was video. The beauty of modern WordPress sites is that you don’t have to even get the embed code for YouTube video. You just paste the URL of the YouTube or Vimeo video and it automatically detects it and embeds it as video. Nice and easy. I was hoping I could use this and wouldn’t have to muck about with plugins or jQuery just to get video playing properly at all the responsive sizes. After testing on various platforms and browsers it seems to work ok on most of them with the notable exception being my Android mobile. It doesn’t scale at all on that. Some others just have a slightly stretched bounding box around the properly resized video which to me isn’t a big issue.

I’ve also included some basic CSS3 effects, again just to see how well it works on different browsers. If you roll over the blog title and most other links on posts and in the sidebar then they should transition from grey to black or vice versa and back again on rollout. This seems to work fine on Firefox and Safari but on Chrome there is an annoying little bug which means that it stops working on links that you have already visited.

In terms of design I wanted to keep it ultra clean and make it all about the content. To highlight the content even more I made the banner and sidebars grey unless you roll over the links. I plan to try to include a full colour image to all posts to help enhance the content and make the homepage look more attractive. I’m also currently playing around with some jQuery animation ideas to possibly add to the sidebar.

More to come I’m sure! Blog version 1.0

CaT London

Creative people and technical people have not always worked well together. Often designers dream up blue sky designs that make the technologists twiddle their knobs in frustration. Alternatively, the technologists can build something incredibly advanced but which is neither attractive nor usable causing designers to pull their (well-groomed) hair out. Lately, however, these two different hemisphered skills have become much closer bedfellows. Much of this is aided by modular technologies or open APIs that allow people to easily manipulate functionality and add their own customisable design. People can have a foot in both camps. Coming from my Product Design Engineering background, and now my front end/back end web perspective, I was eager to attend the latest CaT event yesterday in London which showcases the best of creative technology from both perspectives.

The ‘Creativity and Technology’ one day conference was held in the Saatchi Gallery on the Kings Road just off Sloane Square. A suitably artistic and creative venue. Unfortunately the technology did not match the ambience as the WiFi was playing up all day. A real shame at a conference like this, I have to say.

The lineup of presenters, however, did not disappoint at all. Speakers came from huge digital production and design agencies such The Mill, AKQA and Berg. Discussions came from topics such Augmented Reality, Latest online marketing campaigns and How Social Media is changing cities. The speakers’ accents came from such far flung places as London, New York, Ireland, Sweden and good old Glasgow.

Some very interesting uses of creative technology were demonstrated and discussed… Building games to help children learn about road safety. Augmented Reality to see the World Trade Center retrospecitvely in situ in New York. Removing choice for users to alleviate the stress of search. Observing that constants are now becoming variables in a world where every object has a data value which can be manipulated. Using music as a dynamic tool within a user-defined experience. And more.

Here are some excellent examples of the work that was showcased including video production, CGI, Flash 3D, Interactive sites and visualisations of multiple forms of information. Inspirational, one and all.

To be honest the day gave enough food for thought for me to write about 10 blog posts, so I will not attempt to try to squeeze them all into this one. What really hit me though was that the most interesting presentations were from those speakers who not only did not pigeonhole themselves into the creative or technologist camps but who also looked for inspiration from every aspect of life. They quoted literature and philosophy. They found perfect real-life analogies to explain very technical ideas. They, in a nutshell, showed us that ultimately it all comes down to awareness of human nature and the user experience. It’s not about the tools you use. It’s about the story.

Oh and I got to play about on a Microsoft Surface. Awesome technology. I’m already thinking of apps I would love to build for it. From both a creative and a technology perspective of course.