On Monday 9th September I made the three hour train journey up to Manchester to attend the sixteenth BLAB event. After starting four years ago as a modest meet-up event for creatives, BLAB has evolved and grown into a quarterly event which now hosts 200+ creatives and has played host to guest speakers such as Peter Saville, Airside, Studio Output, Mr Bingo, Peter Crawley, Vaughan Oliver and Gavin Strange. Now housed at the Band on the Wall bar in Manchester’s Old Quarter, there’s a relaxed informal atmosphere to the event as people chat waiting for the first speaker to grace the stage. Tonight it’s the turn of illustrator, typographer and designer Steven Bonner and designer/creative director John McFaul. Kicking things off, Steven Bonner took a retrospective approach to his talk, looking back at his influences as a kid and how he found enjoyment from re-sketching the mastheads and logo’s of popular superhero’s rather than the figures themselves. Steven emphasised the importance of play and collaboration, stressing that it’s imperative to do both in order to evolve your work and style: “Change up your style. It’s the best thing you can do”. Steven revealed that following an uninspired and fractious 8 year period running a small design company, he’d taken the decision (with a little encouragement from his wife) to go it alone, and effectively start a fresh. Not knowing the direction in which he wanted to go, Steven spent the first year of his freelance career “playing” and “schooling” himself. It was through this play and exploration that lead Steven to land jobs for the likes of Nike, Audi and A&G.
After a short interlude we welcomed to the stage rider and creative director John McFaul. Many people will know John as founder of the now defunct Chichester based creative agency McFaul Studio. Before shutting up shop over three years ago, McFaul studio were leading the way with their design work on global campaigns for Nike, Pepsi and Levi’s. Housing talents such as Ollie Munden (now at iLoveDust) and Chris Malbon (freelance), McFaul were the agency of the moment. One day however and almost over night, it all came to a head and the design community was shocked to find that the studio had shut up shop. Why? A short blog post on the studio’s site at the time gave some reasons, but aspects of it’s closure remained a mystery. The basis for John’s talk (the first time he’s spoken publicly since the closure of McFaul Studio), was fear. Fear of failure, fear of not being able to provide for your family, fear of success even. How fear has been responsible for many of the decisions he has made over his career but how fear is not something we should be afraid of; Rather, something we should embrace.
After closing McFaul Studio, John went AWOL, “crashed and had to reboot”. He found himself in New York working as a creative director for Pepsi on global ad campaigns but very quickly fell out of love with the corporate giant and quit. After returning to England and his home on the south coast, John took time to reassess and began working for smaller consumer brands such as bike designers Vandeyk and high performance clothing brand Ashmei. John explained that he’d found comfort working with these brands because he believed in the products they were selling and was therefore able to invest more emotion into the design process. However, (and not surprisingly) it was John’s most recent design work with Lancashire bike company BeaconFell which seemed to garner the most excitement.
A recurring theme throughout both talks was that of creating success out of failure. If you crash, you get back on again (to use one of John’s cycling analogies). Don’t be afraid to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, because those are the times when the most interesting things tend to happen. BLAB itself was a huge success and if you’re a creative in or around the area of Manchester looking for inspiration, it’s definitely worth a look. You can find out more on BLAB by visiting the Northern Digitals Meet-Up page here or follow @BLABTalks for news on future events.