Designing for the Fringe
I’ve been to the Edinburgh Fringe every August since 2012, and usually spend the week wandering around eating all the pastry, drinking all the coffee, and taking every flyer I’m given. The festival is such a great place to pick up some design inspiration that I always come home with a rucksack crammed to the brim with hundreds of pieces of paper, and enough ticket stubs to plaster the outside of my house.
The actual success of flyering at the fringe is debatable. It’s pretty tricky to tell whether people roll through the doors because of an A5 piece of paper or because the stars have aligned, Mars is in retrograde, and by some stroke of luck they had nothing else on that evening. However, when a flyer looks well thought out and is paired with some cracking conversation, flyers are far more likely to be kept out of the bin, and possibly even snuck home and framed at some later point.
So what makes for a well-thought-out flyer? Design for the Fringe hinges on consistency - sorting out a strong image should be the top priority, whether that’s from a photo shoot like Shelf’s, shown below and possibly the best Friday night I’ve ever had, or a good illustration. This image should really be hammered home; shoved all over social media, cracked out in every social situation, sent to grandmas across the country to cross-stich and hang out of their windows. A weak design or chopping and changing the image because your best pal Dave thinks that it looks a ‘bit weird’ will leave a flyer lost amongst all the other loud voices clambering for ticket sales.
Those who take a show up to the Fringe are often under some pretty tight budget constraints, and that’s even before the lure of a mac and cheese stand offers temptation away from that budget Tesco meal deal. Design can be at the bottom of the list of priorities, and because of this it’s very easy to go for quantity over quality, investing money in printing thousands of average to poor flyers rather than looking into hiring a designer. But there are always ways around this cost, which you should always try to discuss. In my totally personal and completely biased opinion, creating posters for shows, particularly funny ones, is actually quite an enjoyable job. It’s an opportunity to create a real stand-out portfolio piece and can be a holiday from brand guidelines and grids. An offer of a fairly open brief and a chance to create something both parties are happy with could mean lower costs. If compromise for the finished look of a key visual isn’t an option, then it’s possible that offering credit on flyers, social media shout outs, and singing the praises to other performers would work as good bargaining chips. The key thing here though is not to take the piss: whether hiring a professional, someone from a local art college, or a gal from down the pub, both parties should benefit from the bargain- either with cold hard cash delivered by the barrowful, or a bangin’ addition to a portfolio and due credit shouted from the rooftops.
Ruby Clyde and Rachel Watkeys Dowie, who together make up Shelf
Flyering can be pretty horrible because you're basically asking people to come take a chance on you, which feels almost arrogant, because why should they? Having a professional looking flyer genuinely helps so much, because it gives you a level of legitimacy. People stop and look. And if your flyer directly targets your demographic, that makes a huge difference. With one of our shows, the Lol Word, we took direct inspiration from the L word. Our pool of audience was smaller, but people would literally seek us out because of the artwork- they crossed the street to come get that flyer. Particularly on Free Fringe, promoting your show is all on you, and so the right artwork seriously makes a massive difference.
(Co-founder of Hatch It
Theatre and Performer in Whalebone)
"I was a feminist in the 70s, when it actually meant something. So no, I don’t think I need to see your show.” “No offence, but that sounds awful.” These are just two of the lovely comments that stand out from a month’s worth of flyering at the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s a tricky business, selling your show – it was sort of low on the list of things to prepare for when we put together a show. But that said, our flyer itself was beautiful, and did a lot of the work for us. It was eye-catching and clean, and designer Tom Barnett really thought hard about how to market our concept. A digitally distorted, snakelike image of a female body, an exaggeration of the real “S-Bend” corset craze of the 1900s, was the perfect calling card for our show about the expectations that are placed on women’s bodies. Of course, it was slightly awkward that the female body in question was my own, and I had to deal with people not knowing – “Is she really that skinny?!” “You can tell it’s a real leg – look at that cellulite!” – or worse, the men who would ask, smugly, “Is that you?” But on the whole, people responded really well to the flyer and to our company’s flyering technique, which was to have extended conversations with them about the show, the concept, and the issues surrounding it. People could tell we were actually invested in the show, and it was always lovely to see people that we’d chatted to in the street or the Pleasance Courtyard sitting in the audience.
Top tips for briefing a designer for the Fringe.
Briefing a designer is easy. So easy I’ve even done bullet points:
Know what do you actually need designing. As standard I’d suggest a square image for the programme, an A5 or A6 flyer, a poster in A3, a cover for Facebook and maybe a profile picture to replace the one of your lovely face.
Sort out your images. If you know you want to go down the photography route, get some professional ones done and send them over high res, or commission an illustration from someone who’s portfolio and style you’re totally sold by.
Provide all the copy in an easy format to read. Up front. As a basic rule this should be the title, date, venue, and ticket price. If you can make the priority of information obvious then you get double points. Don’t try to cram the world and his wife in there: picture speaks a thousand words, and a man choosing a Fringe show will definitely not read that many.