As co-creative director at Antwerp’s design studio Mirror Mirror, Ben Boliau has developed some interesting ideas about his work, and the design industry as a whole.

Set to make his second appearance at the third Us By Night event this 22-24 November, he promises to offer his audience a singular experience. What will attendees be able to take away from it? “Hopefully they’ll be inspired to think a bit differently, be really passionate and dead serious about their profession, but at the same time not be too uptight about graphic design.” 

Ahead of hosting the Living Room stage, Boliau shared five insights that he’ll be covering in his Us By Night talk…

01. Passion is no guarantee

Mirror Mirror's rebranding of the Creative Club of Belgium

Mirror Mirror’s rebranding of the Creative Club of Belgium, “sent a proverbial wrecking ball through the façade of a old and dusty institution”

(Image: © Creative Belgium Awards 2016)

“Finding your niche in the design industry can certainly earn you some happy dollars,” says Boliau, “and if you can correlate that with actually getting paid real money, you’ve hit the jackpot.” But it’s not as easy as that, warns the designer. “Passion is not a guarantee to reach that blissful double whammy – yet without it, you’re certainly never going to get there either.” 

If you’re just fuelled by passion, it may not be enough. “I believe one’s passion should never be the goal in itself. Passion should be a motor of sorts. All too often designers use a client’s brief (and budget) as an outlet to showcase their own personal style and authorship, or passion, instead of really reflecting on the actual brand or message they should be representing.”

02. Desperation and envy can be useful

Although a main part of design events like Us By Night is to inspire creatives, and you can sometimes come away from them thinking, ‘everything is awesome,’ Boliau is adamant that just looking at the positives is not always helpful. “I would say the whole graphic design event circuit keeps both my love and hate for design and creativity alive,” he tells us, “and I believe there is such a thing as too much inspiration. It can, in my case, lead to desperation and envy… But that’s totally cool. It’s supposed to be that way.”

If people only look at the positive in their careers, how will they ever learn from their mistakes? If you don’t embrace the despair of not working on projects that inspire you, how will you push yourself to eventually do so? “I think it’s really important to be supportive,” Boliau says, “but also to be honest and critical of stuff as well.”

03. ‘Wrong design’ isn’t always wrong

 Houston TX studio Pen & Pixel Graphics album artwork

Boliau’s talk will be dominated by his passion for ’90s Houston TX studio Pen & Pixel Graphics, “and their outlandish album cover artwork”

In Boliau’s talk this November, he’ll be covering his fascination for the ’90s Houston TX studio Pen & Pixel Graphics and their “outlandish” album cover artwork. It’s an ongoing love of his, and he details how it’s influenced his own practice. “It’s great, weird stuff that totally ignores the rules of what design should be. I love it,” he says. 

It’s Boliau’s hope that some attendees will be inspired enough to think a bit differently about their own approach to design, and he’s not too fussed that this style just happens to be the latest trend. “We’ve reached a time when everything is dated and timeless at the same time,” he says. “This whole ’90s style has been a popular fad for a while, and it just so happens that the typographic conventions of that era have been ‘my thing’ for years. I’m not going to stop loving or working with disproportionally scaled type because it has become a trend.” 

04. Design events aren’t just for designers

people rolling up posters

Ben worked on the sixth edition of the Integrated conference, which was subtitled ‘Between Creativity and Criminality: The Art and Design of the Civil Domain’

With a lot of small design agencies, and two major arts and design colleges pumping out a slew of talented students each year, Antwerp’s design scene is a “small pond with lots of fish,” says Boliau.

As with other cities, its design community runs the risk of being, “a little bit too internally focused. We all like to show each other what we’re doing,” says Boliau, “but much of the initiatives to promote local creativity just amount to circular inbreeding.”

So how to freshen things up while also attracting global clients? “I think the way Us By Night is set up goes a long way in opening up our hermetic design community to the client side,” says Boliau. The event’s unique focus on evening talks, markets and fun activities means it’s “an event you can bring a brand manager to without boring him to death. It promotes our respective professions in such a dazzling way. If I were a client looking for a new agency to work with, I’d secretly go window shopping at Us By Night.”

More speakers at Us By Night

Ben Boliau will be speaking at Us By Night in Antwerp, Belgium, from 22-24 November 2018. The full speaker lineup includes artists, designers and various creatives from around the world, including: 

Don’t miss out: buy your tickets here.

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