OFFF Festival: When the culture of design and digital art make Barcelona hum

The city was a featured part of the 18th edition of OFFF, the International Creativity, Art and Digital Design Festival, which brings together the most famous gurus on the international scene.

OFFF was founded in 2000 by Héctor Ayuso, a multifaceted professional with a long career in the field of creativity. Sharing knowledge and creative processes is at the core of this initiative which is held in Barcelona every year, whose main event are lectures delivered by the most renowned professionals in the sector. The last edition was held at the Barcelona Design Museum, and it reclaimed its role as a pioneering festival of design and digital art.

“The hallmarks of OFFF are that the contents are pure. Creativity is the topic of conversation. We’re not trying to sell anything else. We don’t talk about industry or business”, says Pep Salazar, the executive director of the festival.

“We have a very large community of 150,000 people from all over the world, and from this community we assemble around 5,000 of them in OFFF Barcelona”, he continues. It is a highly professional niche audience, 70% of whom come from foreign countries and “take advantage of the festival to enjoy the city and everything it has to offer for a few days”, says Salazar. So, what does the festival bring to the city? “Knowledge of the latest and the upcoming trends in design, art and digital culture”, he responds.

“OFFF is a platform that showcases how the different design disciplines are interwoven”. (Pep Salazar)

The intense concentration of world-class speakers makes this a unique, incomparable event. This year, there are 50% more speakers than last year, reaching a total of 98 figures from the global creative and design scene. One of the most anxiously-awaited keynotes is the creative director and designer Patrick Clair, the author of credit titles from series like Westworld, The Crown and True Detective broadcast by HBO and Netflix. With OFFF, Clair is launching his participation in a European festival, and this is actually his first appearance at any festival. A hall bursting with a huge audience listened keenly to his design projects and explanations of the role played by symbols in the creation of his projects.

“Creativity is the association of two things that were previously not associated”, said Patrick Clair in his talk.

The illustrator Jessica Hische, who is known for her work with Barack Obama, Starbucks, Nike and Apple; Luke Hayman, a partner of the prestigious American studio Pentagram and the author of the new image of Time magazine; and James Victore, one of the mainstays in the world of design, were just three more on the roster of speakers.

The young designer Ben Grandgenett, who became the deputy art director of the New York Times Magazine even before he turned 30, and the designer Stefan Sagmeister, founder of the New York firm Sagmeister & Walsh, were two other renowned professionals who were part of the vibrant sessions in OFFF 2018.

The Russian designer Pokras Lampas, the ambassador of the typographic movement called calligraffiti, and the Catalan designer Marta Cerda Alimbau were also among the influential speakers on the extensive list in this year’s edition. John Evans, the product design director at Facebook, and Eleanor Harding, senior product designer at Twitter, shared with the audience their experiences on these social media platforms.

OFFF is a celebration of creativity from start to finish. For this edition, Mathery Studio, the young Italian duo living in New York, were in charge of the festival’s campaign and officially opened it. This was a unique project which led them to question the meaning of the festival’s letters, which they resolved with a fun, original proposal. In turn, the international studio Mucho was in charge of designing the book “The Visible and the…”, which is given to the participants every year. It is a graphic gem with the participation of the photographer Pancho Tolchinsky, and its pages inquire into emotions and how human beings perceive them. Finally, the Main Titles of OFFF 2018 – the audiovisual piece that closes that festival, in which all the big names who have graced its stages appear – was commissioned to Jake Ferguson and Heebok Lee, two consummate professionals who now comprise the Korean studio Giantstep.

In terms of trends, Salazar says that it is difficult to pinpoint specific ones since “OFFF is a platform that shares how the different design disciplines are interwoven”. However, he admits that the spotlight is on “the new digital tools and how they allow us to create innovative ways of approaching the stories being told”. Nonetheless, he reflects, “augmented reality is one of the tools that we’re going to see more, in addition to the innovation in moving images stemming from all the crossing of the different disciplines”. In the opinion of this cultural educator and manager, “there is no longer a single discipline that can survive by itself”. Hence, he believes that this is OFFF’s mission: “To generate a relationship with professionals, speakers and artists coming from all over the world who, along with the public, can establish a fluid relationship of generosity and shared knowledge”.

“There is no longer a single discipline that can survive by itself”, says Pep Salazar, executive director of the festival.

With its powerful, varied programme, OFFF also offers workshops and master classes with Adobe, along with different activities and a bazaar of young designers. As a whole, it invites participants to experience three days of intense emotions and creative vitality. In this year’s edition, the Design Museum space was used as the backdrop for testing “the first electronic tattoo in a festival”, a pilot project designed by the festival in conjunction with Elisava Design and Engineering School.

OFFF is a solid event which is now expanding abroad. Under the “OFFF on Tour” aegis, the festival will be travelling to different cities around the world with a map that now includes more than 40 editions. And breaking news as the curtain comes down on this year’s edition: for the first time, the OFFF book will become part of the Design Museum’s holdings. “This is huge news because it is a donation from the festival to the city so that it can be consulted, and perhaps one day exhibited in the Museum itself”, says Salazar.

1, 3: Campaign by Mathery Studio for OFFF 2018
2, 4: OFFF, Design Museum of Barcelona, 2018.