Anthony’s take on the Birmingham Design Festival

20 June 2018
By – Anthony Davies-Jones

Birmingham Design Festival

I’ve been to a number of these types of events over the years, but never one of this size in my home city of Birmingham. I was really keen to see how big this festival could become since its announcement (for me) at a Glug Birmingham event. With Luke and Daniel leading the event, it looked like it was going to be an interesting adventure.

With the launch of the festival website, came a flurry of colleagues and friends talking about all the, frankly, amazing program of events BDF2018 had in store. It was fun to choose which events to go to, trying to work out when to meet up and splitting events between the Ghost team to make sure we expanded our overall knowledge.

Everyone here had specific things they wanted to be involved in, but I wanted to choose one talk and to also visit a few other locations. In the end I settled for the ‘An Adventure into Advertising & Bighearted Branding!’ talk. Given by three very different types of creatives who, in their own way, looked interesting.

Launch day came and our Twitter feeds were flooded with words like amazing, cool, creative, Birmingham, Brum and Brummy. My excitement now risen, my day out came (Friday) and I went to see what it was all about.

I first wanted to see the GF Smith, the paper specialists, exhibit and although there was no signage for it, I eventually found it and spent some time looking at the exhibits, taking pictures, tweeting and instagramming. The exhibit was small, but was really good at showing a snap-shot history of GF Smith and its sample materials. Now armed with my complimentary envelopes, I walked to the next venue.

The Medicine Bakery & Gallery, wow, what a venue and what cake! I grew up in Solihull and have lived and worked in Brum for most of my adult life and I never knew about this place! The gallery part exhibited posters designed by local talent, where artists were asked to show the creative benefits of Birmingham. An eclectic mix of work, but all of them showed real creative talent and I could have easily have bought about six of them.

I then stopped for a break in the bakery – pot of tea and a frankly obscene Cronut. Replenished with tea and a sugar overload, I moved on.

Next stop was Margaret Street’s Birmingham & Midland Institute. This was an obvious hub for the event, with lots to see, friends to meet and things to buy.

After that I walked over to the A E Harris building where ‘crafts people’ were selling their wares. Some amazing talent was to be found and they were all really friendly people; I bought stuff obvs.

A quick stop for food, then off to the main event at Birmingham’s Repertory theatre. With yet another tote bag and no preconceived ideas on what the evening would involve, we all sat down ready to listen and learn.

First up was Marina Willer. Her approach was that culture and background formed what type of designer you become. Being from Argentina and now living in London, her creative inspiration came from her daily life and seeing beauty in everyday objects. She showed her collection of textures and bright colour images that inspire her design approach.

One example was when she organised workshops for children to explore their creativity. She had them produce paint patterns in the style of Rorschach ink blot tests. The children were asked to make a paint patterns and once dry, draw something from those patterns. The results were lovely and showed really creative thought processes. So much so that when Marina was asked to produce a full brand identity for the Battersea Dogs Home, she remembered those creative kids and their ideas, which heavily influenced the final brand for the home.

Marina left us with a comment that still resonates for me now; “Collections for your mind”. This, for me, helps me know that taking random pictures, or seeing something beautiful in peeling paint on an old wall are just visual referencing for future projects. Creativity does genuinely come from the most oddest of places.

Next up was Trevor Beattie. A true Brummy and famed for some of the most memorable advertising campaigns of the last few decades.

Trevor wanted to inspire us. He started with an opening statement that said he only ever really wanted to “go into space”. Now, through his career, he will be doing just that; next year on board Virgin Galactic.

Trevor was someone who we should all listen too, but his style, I felt, made a few people fidget in their seats. I loved him, I found him humorous and I understood his approach. Maybe it was because I was one of the older audience members, but I felt the early 20 somethings didn’t really get Trevor. They seemed to be of a generation perhaps where all they want was to be told by someone successful how they did it. All they really wanted was to be shown beautiful this and then be given a step-by-step plan on how to be a creative success.

Trevor did give them what they wanted, but perhaps they don’t yet realise it.

Trevor said, you must always have “a thing”. Something that above all else you want from life. It shouldn’t be logical or even (if he was honest) achievable, but whatever it is it should become your driver, your passion! He was saying that to be a success in the creative world, being cool or trendy, though important, isn’t what your aim should be. You should always have something, a thing, that influences your actions and your design process.

I thought Trevor’s wish to go into space was totally logical and I truly cannot believe he’s going to do it. The only thought I have is that once done, what next Trevor?

Now came Jack’s turn. She is from Glasgow; one of my favorite cities. Like Trevor, she gave us her story on how she got to where she is today. Jack Renwick is today one of the most successful designers of a generation. Working closely with her clients, she has a genuine passion to create the right answers in her design approach. But her career beginnings weren’t exactly conventional.

Her first design job was as a welder. She would go to locations around Glasgow welding wheelchair ramps to the side of older buildings to give better access. She got the job through an advert in the yellow pages under the title graphic designer. Not knowing what a graphic designer did, she started the job a little confused, but like it and carried on for a few years. I liked Jack from this point.

Eventually she found out that to be a graphic designer you need to go to college or university. She did this and discovered she loved all things graphic and design.

Like most people of that generation, if you wanted to be a graphic designer you had to go to London; not today though, Go Birmingham!

She eventual set up her own business, explaining a few mistakes and lucky breaks along the way. Today she works with clients as diverse as Amnesty International and Stella McCartney and is seen as a refreshing frank person who says it how it is.

I really liked Jack. I loved her honesty and her story that tells of mistakes and genius decisions made. Like Trevor, she didn’t give you a point-by-point ‘how I became successful’, but just told her story and I thank her for that.

Finally, there was Jim Sutherland. His opening statement of ‘sorry for the length of this PowerPoint presentation; it being 350 pages.”; you could actually feel the audience deflate.

Jim started his talk about his many projects and how he first approached them verses how they finally looked. The devil was in his detail. His design approach was considered and thoughtful, but above all his craftsmanship in design was superb. The level of detail in the smallest of typographic elements was something to truly admire. Jim’s in-built ability to understand the purity of design was a thing of beauty. A true master of design.

By the end of his mammoth presentation people who told me they needed to get the last train knew they had missed it, but I think it was worth it. Perhaps though, in the future BDF2019, you might consider that an overrun-on time might not be as simple for some as others.

At the end of a really good day I felt inspired. Not in a revolutionary way but in the way of contentment. Content with the idea that all creative people think in a certain way. They see life with all its bizarre detail and interrupt that life into beautiful creative design work.

We’re a team of creatives who believe that our individual abilities and perspectives are amplified when we come together to create change for our clients.

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