x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Yasalam: designers sharpen their pencils for Cut&Paste showdown

Eight designers will reveal their ruthless inner selves in a beachfront competition as part of the F1 entertainment festival.

Cut&Paste events are conducted as a spectator sport, complete with partisan crowds and strict rules for competitors who may be used to deadlines but possibly not to such a tight time-frame.
Cut&Paste events are conducted as a spectator sport, complete with partisan crowds and strict rules for competitors who may be used to deadlines but possibly not to such a tight time-frame.

Rappers battle with insults, DJs battle with mixing, and even chefs do battle on television via their spatulas and chopping boards. But few could have predicted that designers and illustrators - the behind-the-scenes folk who carefully construct every bit of visual communication, branding and marketing around us - would square up competitively.

That's the inspirational spark of Cut&Paste, a design tournament that has gone from strength to strength across a diverse selection of US cities and is about to embark on its fourth global tour.

Tonight, as part of the Yasalam events that buzz around Formula One week in Abu Dhabi, the Abu Dhabi Corniche will become what John Fiorelli, Cut&Paste's founder, describes as "a concert for people who enjoy design and art".

Cut&Paste started as a response to the unfortunate obscurity that so many designers exist in. "I'd spent five years working in the film industry, in which you work with every kind of designer possible. But watching those movies, you never know anything about the designers who contribute such skill and passion to each production," says Fiorelli.

In Abu Dhabi, eight designers will compete in knockout rounds in which they're asked to craft on-the-spot designs in 15 minute bursts, before the results are evaluated by a jury of industry specialists. The winner gets a trip to New York for two, to attend the next Cut&Paste event.

"We invite creative directors and art directors from firms, studios and brands to the jury. We want to help emerging designers get their names out there but also to hook them up with jobs," he says.

After six years of regular events, the Abu Dhabi version follows the format set in San Francisco, Sao Paulo and Shanghai. Watching clips from a recent New York event, there's a formidable energy to the whole thing: lines of designers hurriedly laying out imagery, balancing that with making off-the-cuff paintings they can incorporate into the piece. Meanwhile, a DJ offers a frenetic score and an MC bellows commentary down the microphone. It's all far removed from the habitat of a designer gazing at a monitor in a quiet, white studio.

Fiorelli explains that each of the designers receives the briefs for each round a week before the competition. These tend to be fairly tangible, and he uses the example of designing packaging for a product as one such example, but says at Yasalam, the briefs have been F1-tailored.

"They have to create everything from scratch on stage, but everything is about preparation beforehand. They have a lot of work to do in 15 minutes," says Fiorelli, with a hint of glee in his voice. "Designers simply don't do this kind of thing.

"But we're careful to give briefs that will challenge them; this is about all the small but crucial aesthetic and conceptual decisions being made. You have to pay attention to that but the crowd really gets to see this element of the design process."

Rollan Rodriguez has been active in Dubai's design scene for several years and is the de facto figurehead of Brown Monkeys, a collective of Filipino designers. After making it into the final eight, he notes that everything about Cut&Paste's accelerated aesthetic is at odds with how he works in the office: "They give you a brief and you have to turn it into beautiful visuals in 15 minutes: That's a groundbreaking concept for us, and very alien for any designer. You have to think like a machine gun - very automatic - and learn all of the computer techniques beforehand."

Rodriguez may not have a Rocky-style training programme for getting his hotkeys nailed, but he has been preparing for the event by following the batch of do-it-quick tutorials for design tools available free on the Cut&Paste website. "Each brief needs to have a strong concept, executed smartly and delivered very fast. You just can't work at that speed in an agency environment."

This is the first time that a Cut&Paste event has been held anywhere in the Middle East.

Although all are based in the UAE, the designers in the final eight represent an international sweep, with talent coming in from the Philippines, the UK, Venezuela and Syria. "This is contributing to a mix of different styles and interests," says Fiorelli, who wants to see how the regional scene shapes up.

He says that the team have their eyes on taking this to other parts of the region, especially Beirut, and are always looking for partners in local design communities to make that happen.

But ultimately, Cut&Paste is a lively, loud celebration of good design: "Designers are part craftsmen, part artists," says Fiorelli. "They learnt their craft at school, taking on certain rules, while at the same time they have a sense of artistry that's often about breaking down those rules."

Striking a balance between the two, and managing it at breakneck speed, is the best battle tactic these warring designers can hope to have.


Cut&Paste Abu Dhabi, part of Yasalam, starts at 7.30 on Thursday night, Abu Dhabi Corniche - East Plaza; admission free

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