Recap: Pause Fest 2011

A couple of weeks ago the city of Melbourne, Australia, hosted the very first run of a digital design festival, Pause. The festival covers different aspects from digital advertising to street projections, and gives the Melbourne design community an excuse to network, connect and get inspired. I went along and have now come to share my thoughts on the events I attended and on the festival as a whole.

In my opinion, a successful design festival should always reflect the spirit of the city where it’s held. In that regard, Pause Fest did a great job. First of all, Melbourne is not New York or London (this is even more obvious after watching the festival’s screening of New York in Motion). It is not fast-paced and only has a small creative industry, so a “digital” designer here needs to be multi-skilled: a styleframe designer that needs to know how to edit, animate, composite — and maybe even know a few lines of code.

With that in mind, Pause offered a wide selection of events, from workshops at agencies to screenings and a few interactive installations. Most of the events were free as well, making it one of the most affordable design events the city has seen.

Secondly, the tone of Melbourne’s creative scene is elusive and understated in general, nurtured by the city’s network of hidden laneways, rich in street art. Pause’s “Guerrilla Projection” program perfectly reflects this spirit: Nearly every night, if you can find it and be there at the right time, you will be treated to some lovely visuals projected from a custom-built cargo bike, on an unnamed wall somewhere in the city.

Surprisingly (I consider myself rather technophobic), the most exciting find at the festival for me involves the marriage of motion design with sophisticated technology in the form of interactive experience design (Boffswana) and multi-platformed digital advertising strategies (Visual Jazz). Just take a look at this video of Alienware launch performance seen live by a select crowd of only 100 people last July.

There is definitely room for improvement. Given that Pause covers several disciplines, it would be great to see more emphasis placed on showing the audience how they connect to one another, perhaps in the form of a panel session with experts from each field (motion, advertising, interactive, technology) discussing key issues in front of a live audience. I admit that it’s not possible to impose a narrative on a festival sometimes, but in this case I feel that a more discernible thread linking the events, the workshops and the installations would mean that the audience gets more out of it at the end of the week.

All in all, given that the festival was put together by such a small team, and that this is their first run, I consider it a great success. The team managed to secure great venues and the cooperation of some of the best creative organizations in Melbourne, and they even provided a smartphone app for easy navigation and registration for events. As the festival grows each year and starts to find its footing, I can’t wait to see what they will offer next. It is definitely a much-needed exercise to help create the feeling of a community in a city with so much potential yet geographically so far removed from the hub of design industry, like Melbourne.