Aaron Duffy at OFFSET
Dublin, 2019

HD mockup of The Galaxy travel app

Aaron Duffy is co-founder of SpecialGuest and specialises in communication and visual experimentation. I love learning about anything that deals with communication. I was very excited to see how he combines visual experimentation with communication in an effective way. I was not disappointed. In Duffy’s presentation at OFFSET Dublin in 2019, he talked through several very cool and effective campaigns that he worked on.

Duffy also incorporated ten confessions on what he struggled with during the projects and what he felt he could improve on. I thought this was a really brave approach as it was so honest. I think that it is great to hear the success stories but little reminders of struggles and disappointments are important to reflect on as well. Particularly in our current culture which is prone to presenting a ‘glossy’ version of life with plenty of Instagram and Facebook posts to back it up.

My favourite campaigns that Duffy spoke about during his presentation were for the Audi Q5 and Google. These advertisements are probably some of his less experimental work however, I love their simplicity. For me finding a clever, engaging and simple way to communicate a message visually is genius and probably what I strive for most in my own work. I feel this was achieved in both advertisements.

In the Audi advertisement shown above, the majority of the ad consists of an illustrated man moving around a box canvas shaping and folding the box into the shape of a car. This was accompanied by the soft, child-friendly folk song, ‘Riding in My Car’ by Woody Guthrie. Finally, the Audi Q5 is revealed and the text that follows playfully reads “We’ve unboxed the box”. Duffy attributes the success of the advert to its contrast to other cool and mechanical Audi advertisements at that time. He describes the above outcome as warm and playful. I also feel this approach is well paired with the Q5, one of Audi's models suited for families.

The Google search advertisement, ‘Parisian Love’ is really simple and may be a bit cheesy but I love it. I love its minimalist approach and I believe that Duffy underplays what was achieved with this ad in his presentation. Regardless of the advertisement’s cheesy undertones, it still achieves a relatable and engaging outcome which in my opinion is no small feat for a tech company advertisement.

Duffy describes ‘Parisian Love’ as not one of his favourites and a “little soppy”. However, he concedes that due to the advertisement's massive success being used as Google’s first TV advertisement and even being played at the Super Bowl, he “may not know what is good”. I think out of all the confessions that Duffy makes, this is the one that really jumps out to me. It can be difficult to distinguish between good work as considered by others and what we as designers consider to be good.

It’s important to create work you are proud of and that you love. However, if no one appreciates your work, it doesn't get watched or it doesn’t get the following it should, this raises the question of whether the work is meeting its purpose. Duffy admits to this problem in his ‘Why can’t we get along?’ advertisement, for Rag & Bone. Creating work you love and work that sells can be a hard balance to achieve. However, I believe this can be achieved. One approach could be finding your niche and what makes others' work successful in that area. What is less effective is bringing your own preferences to a project and losing sight of the needs of the target audience or end-user.

It is important to remember that design should solve problems. As creatives, we may love injecting some personality and impact into what we are creating. However, this should never take away from the end goal of what an advertisement or any design outcome needs to achieve.

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