After attending the “big brother” OFFF conference in Barcelona this year, I was anxious to see how this shorter single-day affair would turn out.

Well, it was fantastic.

We’re lucky here in Detroit Michigan; the only OFFF conference held in the United States is just a 5 hour drive down to Cincinnati Ohio. After attending the “big brother” OFFF conference in Barcelona this year, I was anxious to see how this shorter single-day affair would turn out.

Well, it was fantastic.

Yuko Shimizu

“We never get younger than we are today. So let’s stop thinking, I’m too old to _____.”

From years in corporate culture to going back to college and becoming an illustrator for magazines around the world, Yuko’s presentation built up to her first concluding observation: “No life experience is ever a waste of time.” Her original degree in business administration and 11 years of prior work experience proved to be invaluable as she started her own freelance company.

She also encouraged artists to take risks, and to push at least 10% of each project into a direction they hadn’t explored before. After 10 projects, you can find yourself in an entirely new artistic place.

“A project is not a success unless the client thinks it is…as a commercial artist, your masterpiece is useless if the client doesn’t like it.”

Anton & Irene

Sharing details on how they pitch, develop, and produce global-level brand websites, Anton and Irene demonstrated how breaking the rules (present one good idea, wireframes come first, big teams for big projects) can actually be hugely rewarding.

1. Pitch

“Pitching is like putting on makeup in the dark. You usually get it wrong.”

By presenting two primary solutions and one entirely off-brief idea, they significantly increase their chances in larger group presentations. The pitch landscape has changed significantly in the past 10 years; from 4 rough comps to several hundred pages of design and documentation. When you need to win over an audience, you have to prove you understand what they’re asking for, and offer enough options to attract a diverse selection of executives.

2. Discovery

“When we start, we have no clue about anything. Every time it’s a steep learning curve.”

Spending a signficant time in the research and discovery phase makes the rest of the process significantly easier. Starting with a blank page can be daunting, so…Research. Learn. Absorb.

“Learning and inspiration can be the same thing.”

They also build a detailed feature matrix to document every single element of a project with attached client value, consumer value, and development complexity. It greatly simplifies both the estimation process and defining which features pose threats to the timeline while providing minimal value.

3. Production

“If you do UX before design it will be boring, if you do design before UX it will be a disaster.”

The client always wants to see the home page first, but that’s not the most efficient way to work. Anton and Irene split a project into individual pieces their small team can work on simultaneously, while developing the user experience (wireframes with extensive interaction annotations) and design side by side, allowing each to improve the other.

Reiterated by many of the conference speakers, Anton and Irene closed with this: “Doing work you love attracts the client work you’ll love to do.”


Self proclaimed scalpel jedi, Francisco Javier Rodriguez Garcia makes sculptural paper art under the name Lobulo. While working a day job doing graphic design, he made personal pieces that attracted the attention of companies who were looking for unique illustrations. With experience, his work has progressed to the point where it’s nearly indistinguishable from stylised 3D rendering.

“Good things take time.”

David Mikula

“Consider hidden depth.”

From hacker kid to designer/director, David shared his history, and some of the significant productions he’s been a part of. “Stanley,” a twitter based interactive player piano, was a product of the hackathons and encouraged exploration at Digital Kitchen. What would normally be a rather simple jukebox became so much more as it developed its own voice and personality. So what makes experiences like “Stanley” successful? It’s mysterious, but by putting people at the centre, you can build an emotional connection that’s meaningful. Involve your audience, and let them create the experience.

“The silliest things shape the future.”

“Reality can be beaten with enough imagination.”


“We get inspired by people”

Based in Mexico City with a population of 26 billion, Cocolab’s design is contextual and their location has a significant impact on their art.

“We get inspired by Nature.”

Building interactive installations such as musical cellular level biology and large scale experiences for ecological education, they find both inspiration and purpose in the nature that surrounds them.

“We get inspired by culture”

Combining stories from the varied cultures in Central and South America, Cocolab designed an advanced projection experience on the side of Chichen Itza. Challenging in both technical and social aspects, the project required them to develop a system that would allow for precise alignment and complete mobility (the historic site had to be completely untouched at the end of every night).

“We get inspired by struggle”

The Cocolab team spoke openly about the drug cartel wars, and the devastating impact they have had on Mexico. “Disarm” was a musical experience built from confiscated guns provided by the army. It was uncomfortable for the team at first, but as they turned the destroyed guns into something creative and beautiful, it redeemed what was once an instrument of death. The piece traveled around the world, helping audiences everywehere understand that even the darkest items are capable of transformational change. “These are my soldiers of peace.”

Ultimately, with all of these sources of inspiration, “collaboration is our primary tool.” Cocolab tries to develop projects that can help people. If it aligns with a brand, that’s cool, but they don’t set out to do advertising. Make something cool, and the commerical support will follow.


“Simple, self-expression in the digital age.”

Eschewing the confining limitations of digital canvases of finite sizes, Sougwen is obsessive about mark making. Drawing, especially in environments, can be infinite. She also creates art pieces based on certain dystopian aspects of technology, even questioning how the design and user experiences of our most basic applications influences what we create and how we feel.

Like most of the artists at OFFF Cincinnati 2014, Sougwen is friends with many of the other presenters. She collaborated with Cocolab on an experimental project that required projection mapping onto folded paper. Moving her art from physical to digital and back again.

“When we view interactive installations, we often see it as: Human Element = Human Error. But we can really look at is as: Human Element = Human Excellece.”

“The screen is no longer the medium; we are.”


Something of a legend in the motion graphic community, GMunk directed the OFFF Cincinnati 2014 titles, working with Autofuss to produce physical titles unique to each speaker.

“I’m all about reference!” With collections of artwork, some from artists who aren’t even online, GMunk takes reference very seriously and peruses Pinterest every night to find inspiration. Building on previous projects and references from friends, GMunk helped create a short film for Bot&Dolly. Each of the film’s 5 segments were based on a principle of illusion; the graphical depth and complexity escalating in each iteration.

While he’s learned that so much of design is organisation and preparation, it can be taken too far. When creating a music video for Tycho, he planned every single shot to minute levels of detail. The video was practically edited before they even started filming, and he felt the excessive constraint was detrimental to the final product. In the end, the special band-cut of the video is perhaps cooler, featuring full-spectrum camera footage of the musicians illuminated with Microsoft Kinect sensors.

James White

“I’m a child of the eighties, and not to trash all the other decades, but we had the best stuff. The best movies, the best comics, the best commercials…it was all trash, but all great.”

Though it took years of struggle and financial hardship, he’s gotten a lot of recognition for his personal projects: passionate, kitschy, intense, and hilarious redesigns of movie posters and pop culture icons. That recognition has led to amazing commercial projects from companies all over the world, and now he’s working on movie poster redesigns, comic book covers, and video game graphics.

He closed with a few observations from his experience as an artist. “Build your own reality.” Invest in what you’re most passionate about, build what you love, and don’t let making money (as important as paying bills can be!) stand in the way.