Our take on the 2019 Birmingham Design Festival

23 July 2019
By – Mike Sweeting

Birmingham Design Festival

June 2019 saw the return of the Birmingham Design Festival, so after the success of last year we descended on Birmingham on mass from our studio. But what did we all think? A month has past and we’ve all had time to digest the fascinating talks, workshops and experiences. So we asked the team… ‘What was your main take away from BDF2019?’

Chris, Creative Director:

“A day out to the Birmingham Design Festival meant that the design team got to bond on another level creatively outside of the studio. I really enjoyed seeing the enthusiasm and passion from everyone on the day.

One of my highlights of the day was the “future of type” talk that we attended. To understand how variable fonts work in greater detail and how they represent another exciting development in responsive typography was mind blowing for me. Allowing web designers to be more flexible and creative in their designs is a great leap forward for the industry. I’m excited to get the team to look into this new development further and hopefully at some stage make typography the focal point of some of our very own web developments rather than a mere necessity.

Another highlight for me was attending the talk by the Extinction Rebellion group. The main speech was extremely insightful, I was in utter shock at the severity of climate change and how it’s affected the world today. However, when it came to offering advice to design agencies and educating us on how we can potentially help with current environmental issues the talk fell short. I’d have loved them to have delved more into other more ethical ways of packaging products and environmental printing, but this just wasn’t the case. Extinction Rebellion’s designer told us that if a fizzy drink organisation was to approach us, we should just “turn the work down”, however this is just not always a realistic option for smaller design agencies.

Despite the uninspiring and brief section of the talk, the main speech alone made me, as a creative director, think more ethically when it comes to our own design work, and I will aim to continue this mind set within future work.”

Jess, Creative Lead:

“We were very lucky that we got to have a day out of the office to head to the quirky, up and upcoming city of Birmingham. I really enjoyed being out and about with the team! One of my favourite parts of the entire day was being able to bond with everybody in such a creative and inspiring environment outside of the studio, and discussing our personal thoughts on talks and workshops that we each attended throughout the day.

I thoroughly enjoyed the hands-on workshops that involved screen and block printing. It reminded me just how much I love being creative with inks. This is something that I’m keen to bring back to the studio, so that we can all step away from the screen and get hands on together.”

Ant, Account Handler:

“The best talk for me was ‘Behind the curve: The story of BBC Two’s first rebrand in 25 years’. This was the one I expected to be impressed with and I really was. The speaker, Katherina Tudball the Creative Director at Superunion London, wanted to explain the process of producing the programme idents for the BBC 2. Something that hadn’t been done for nearly 25 years.

Superunion worked on two concepts for the BBC. The two pitches they gave were very one sided, in that (like most of our professions) they believed in one concept over the other. The favourite idea was to somehow have the idents link the previous programme to the next, with graphics that in colour and style reflect the category of the programme. Categories that Superunion had identified as emotions rather than drama, comedy or documentary. Their pitch was so successful that the Beeb went for their first concept.

But, the more they worked on it, unsatisfied with the answers they were getting, the more the realised the style of execution wouldn’t work. They also found out that the announcers do much more than speak between programmes and couldn’t spend the time or the thought process power to choose a perfect ident between programmes.

This is all familiar stuff for us, since we tend to show two or three ideas with one that we are convinced is the right answer, and to be honest we’re normally right. But this is where it got interesting from my point of view. The agency decided to abandon the original pitch and go for their second pitch. This didn’t feel wrong because the more they looked at that second pitch the more right it seemed to be. This to me caught the essence of what the 2019 Birmingham Design Festival was about, truth. The agency knew they had spent many long hours working on the original idea, an idea they loved. But they were brave enough drop that idea and pitch back the second idea, but with more time and effort put into it. They had a great client in the BBC who believed in the agency and it was the second idea we see today.

Each ident wasn’t actually done by the agency but were commissioned by them to produce an ideate. That way you have many differing style and the creativity never stops. That’s the beauty of a great idea behind and creative work, once it’s set in place other can take it over and develop. It never gets old or tired.”

Mike, Creative Lead:

“Fail harder! It’s been a few weeks since the festival and this has been on my mind ever since. There were some really standout talks that I went to at this years festival, all of which in someway or another planted a similar seed in my head. Be prepared to fail harder! Alice Tonge (4Creative) proposed the question… ‘What are you more afraid of? Putting everything into the most out-there exciting creative you can and failing, or being known as the person to go to for boring creative?’

Laziness isn’t rewarded in design, and the obvious ‘low hanging fruit’ often doesn’t provide solutions that work, or standout creative for your clients. The truth is ‘sometimes you get lucky’, but most of the time it’s your attitude that is your biggest ally. So always be prepared to ‘craft the sh*t out of it’, ‘think bigger than the brief’ and most importantly don’t be afraid to ‘fail harder’.”

Jonathan, Designer:

“Some of the talks were very interesting, some not so much. At times it was hard to not keep my eyes from gluing shut. Although one gem really stood out and left me feeling excited, inspired and all fuzzy inside, for me I thought this was an impossible task.

My favourite was ‘Animate your world’ by Michael Morgan. He talked about his journey in the world of animation and how creativity drove his choices in life. The industry can change so quickly, but if you find your love then it’s easy. Originally studying 2D animation and drawing, he was sure this was his calling. But when this became a media that was starting to be ‘not as required’ shall we say, he began feeling dejected, lost and confused.

However, he found a love in something he was reluctant to start and that was 3D animation. In pushing himself, he found that it wasn’t the form in which he was obsessed with, but the love for storytelling. The fact that he was willing to try a bit of everything from the ‘buffet table’ meant he had a broader view, rather than a narrow one. I connected with this! He could have easily given up, stuck with his day to day. But he chose a new path and now he works on animating and leading a team of artists to develop animations for major feature films such as Black Panther, Guardians of the galaxy and Venom. I’ll leave you with a quote from the man himself ‘We never know how the form will look but as long as we know what is at the core then we will always be on course’. It makes you think, is change necessarily a bad thing?”

Glenn, Web Developer:

“The main takeaway that I got from the Birmingham Design Festival is how digital has evolved with design. It was great coming from a web background and seeing how print, film and other mediums have influenced design in the digital world. I mainly went to the talks with game designers, and developers, as it’s something that I love to do outside the office but never looked deep into the thought process around art styles, the design direction of a game etc.

Another highlight was seeing typography in gaming – and how it’s gone from something that had to be held back because of technical limitations to something that became more expressive and tied to a particular game’s branding. It was great talking to the Executive Producer of Frontier Developments after the talk, and seeing how they cope with keeping things fresh in an ever-changing design industry.”

As you can see, we are all buzzing after this years festival. We’ve spent many hours chatting and debating all the different topics and questions raised, with the aim of improving and streamlining our studio and creative workflows. Bring on the Birmingham Design Festival 2020!

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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