OFFF 2016 – A Creative Party Feeding The Future

As a product person the biggest thing I took with me from OFFF was remembering that it’s ok to make something just for the sake of making it. Just for the sake of art.

I traveled to Barcelona for the biggest creative conference in Europe last week.

I jumped on a plane and quickly found adventure, friends and good times to be had. I put a few words on the screen here, but seriously you should just watch it through my camera:

This 16th edition of OFFF Festival was to be my first and it did not disappoint. OFFF has many of the key ingredients that make a great event: A stellar lineup of first rate speakers. Check. A fantastic venue set in an exciting city. Check. Great food, good logistics and a diverse audience. Check, check, check. But maybe more important than that, it has what every event should strive for: A unique vibe. Like a chef, you can make sure that all the ingredients are there but without that special touch it’ll never go from great to fantastic. OFFF is fantastic. In the video above I tried to find out why and what OFFF meant to some of the people who had made the journey there.

It’s not that it’s a flawless event. It’s an occasional hot mess suffering from many of the same things all 2000+ attendee conferences do. No, it’s not because it’s perfect. That’s not what makes it fantastic.

It’s different. It felt different from other conferences I have attended. It might be the emphasis on art over tech. The offbeat quirky branding by both local design heroes and international rockstars certainly win you over. I mean, how many conferences have main titles like these:

There’s a distinct europeanness to the whole thing too. If it wasn’t because I have toured conferences in the states I might not have noticed it, but the free-er speech (ironic, right?) and the casualness seeps through everything. People swear on stage. They sell beer all day outside from where you are welcome to enjoy the keynotes streaming live on the big screen. Everyone joked about the phallic tower next to the venue. This is a festival, like a music festival, but for learning. It’s about design. It’s about art and it’s about dreams of the future from curious minds.

There’s been a few great breakdowns of what talks stood out and their key learnings, so I’m not going to go too much into that. But from what I did see it felt like there was more of an emphasis on showing cool shit, rather than how to make said cool shit. Showing off amazing work is completely legit and adds to the artistry of the event. It was more inspiration than practicality — and I was perfectly fine with it. The most impactful moments, to me, was from people far outside my own field. Motion designers, theorists and playful design students. There’s some serious cross-polination happening when you gather all of these creative fields under one roof. We compare notes and share stories and find that what we do and how we do it isn’t all that different. We uncover core tenets of creative work. It was evident that minds where blown on an hourly basis in the two tracks the conference consists of and even in the lobby where Adobe and other sponsors made hands-on use of tech to create both digital and physical art.

I drew letters on paper, took a picture of it with a cellphone and printed a tote-bag.

My biggest take away

As a product person the biggest thing I took with me from OFFF was remembering that it’s ok to make something just for the sake of making it. Just for the sake of art. Everything doesn’t have to follow a convention or a reason. It’s a very freeing sensation releasing yourself from the notion that design decisions always have to be founded in rational thought. There’s no need for a measurable metric in expression. Sometimes it’s just a feeling, and that’s OK. It’ll make other people feel without us needing to explain the why and the how. We’re just making things.

Half of what makes a great event is the company you keep and the things you do after hours. The wine infused talks after a day-long bombardment of inspiration. The Adobe crew was, as always, very considered and kind to us. It’s amazing how many new friends you can make in 3 days.

A Polaroid picture of me riding a unicorn. This is normal.

I hope to be back next year and who knows, maybe one day I’ll get to speak there. I promise I’ll show some cool shit then.

Disclosure: Michael Flarup was invited to OFFF by Adobe Nordic.