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By Sofie Farthing

My Birmingham Design Festival 2019 Experience

Last Updated 12 Jun 2019

Hello 😀

First time writing up a blog here, and what better way to get into the flow of writing than to talk about my recent experiences, right? Well in a designer’s perspective, that’s exactly what I’ll be doing today…

A little over a few weeks ago, I was adamant to throw myself into knowing more about design. As the sole creative in our team, it’s all the more important to learn more about my industry and grow into this role.

So after some researching, I came across a nearby event that is fairly new – ‘Birmingham Design Festival’. Simply put, the event is revolved around design, but what caught my eye was the categorisation of their talks, workshops and sessions. Spanning over three days in three different locations, each place focused on a specific type of design; Product, Graphics and Digital districts. It would be up to the creative to pick which district tickle their fancy, an interesting tactic to do for people like me who’d like to explore more than one design industry.

This year’s topic of talk was ‘Truth’ – the exact interpretation of this was discovered after attending the events! With the day events being held for free, it was a done deal! I ended up booking talks in the Graphic District on Friday and Digital District on Saturday.

After a short trip on the train, my arrival at Birmingham City University on Friday (pre-rain showers) was greeted by friendly volunteers. They handed me a free tote bag containing the talk schedule and purpose of the festival, adding a festival touch by stamping my hand with their brand logo! Roaming around the Parkside building made me initially notice the varied people that turned up to the event, from students within the university school of design, to senior professionals from design agencies.

Along the foyer of the design event were design books being sold, graphic essentials, and a screen printing booth to imprint the BDF logo onto the tote bag. A fun space to meet and talk to likewise designers anticipating the talks ahead!

This differed from the location change on Saturday – where the creativity was more on the walls and streets instead of activities. Another train journey down south on a Saturday morning took me to Digbeth, the heart of Birmingham’s custard production – now better known now as the Creative Hub.

Both the Graphic and Digital districts had talented speakers who have achieved great success in their field of creativity on a global scale. For me the speakers listed below truly caught my attention with their inspiring thoughts, experiences and interesting (to say the least!) presentations:


  • Bryan Edmondson
    • Founder of independent design consultancy SEA, this award-winning graphic designer has worked with worldwide brands including GF Smith, Adidas, etc. His talk highlighted that whatever design you create, keep reducing to its simplest form as that is the most effective idea expressed to clients and customers.

      What I learnt: Not all design needs to be complex! By reducing the idea to its simplest form, a concept can clearly be communicated to clients.


  • Michael Johnson
    • In collaboration with Edmondson, this award-winning designer renowned for demystifying brand problems created a billion-pound revenue brand campaign for the University of Cambridge (Dear World, Yours Cambridge). His talk on ideation trials and revisiting ideas from past failed projects transitioned well to him announcing his new book, ’Now Try Something Weirder: How to keep having great ideas and survive in the creative business’.

      What I learnt: To balance ideation, a good idea should have a weird counterpart. That way the client can go for the original creative idea, or the extra creative version!


  • Trish Thomas
    • Head of Digital Engagement at Southbank Centre, Trish is responsible for driving sales as well as audience engagement through build-up of events and planning social activities around key moments happening throughout the year. She emphasises that sharing the culture of their business helps bring the audience together.

      What I learnt: With upcoming events, planning a series of social posts to create a buzz helps audiences engage and share the content.


  • Paul Woods
    • Based in LA, Woods is a designer, writer and illustrator for a global design agency, Edenspiekermann. His creativity in service design spans across with clients in editorial, sustainability and transportation sectors. Time and being logistic with setting goals between client and creative is what his talk entailed. Like Johnson, Woods linked this insight with his book ‘How To Do Great Work Without Being An Asshole’. Reasonable deadlines is what helps make the design outcome more achievable, without the worry for designers to rush a job. Likewise, designers shouldn’t be unrealistic with meeting objectives for a project – simply put, don’t be a pain!

      What I learnt: Setting time slots for each project helps balance out the workload, otherwise you’d end up taking too much time to perfect one brief and run out of time for the rest! Also. making briefs helps clients clearly communicate what they want.


  • Jacob Dutton
    • Managing Director at McCann WorldGroup. This global company brought campaigns such as ‘You’re Worth It’ by L’Oreal and have worked with major clients such as Hilton and BBC with empowering user experience design. Dutton approached his talk differently by focusing on the characteristics designers have. The sense of feeling ‘empathetic’ is essential in creativity, especially when it comes to user needs. He states these skills and emotive values potentially make designers the future CEO representatives for companies, with technology and experience design becoming an integral change for big companies.

      What I learnt: Good design revolves around customer needs and how they would feel about the work. So during the creative process it’s best to keep asking questions on if users would like/use/share the service.


So, going back to BDF’s theme, ‘Truth’. What truth was unveiled?

For me, each speaker explored the different aspects towards the authenticity in design; its processes, its failures and the genuine passion for each project and customer. From finding out the ‘truths’ of design, the key learning curve I can adapt to our services is making the creative process as authentic as possible. This means asking more questions about a client’s demographic, setting realistic time scales for tasks, and most importantly, asking how the designs I’m doing can benefit or improve the customer’s experience.

Also, don’t be an asshole. Ever.

I’d like to thank the sponsors who have helped Birmingham Design Festival become an up and running event for budding creatives like myself. Go follow BDF on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to know what else was happening during these jam-packed events. I hope next year more people are able to experience it. For the ones that are definitely planning to go, take notes and have fun!