Posted 13.06.19

Published by Sarah in the Insights category

Five go to #BDF2019

Jo, Martin, Naomi, Sarah and Sean’s adventure to BDF 2019; experimenting with foils, discovering the truth about low hanging fruit and the big reveal of Digbeth’s new identity!

Birmingham Design Festival is a very young festival, first conceived in 2017 by a group of Midland based designers who wanted to organise an affordable design festival accessible for all levels within the industry. By working as a community within their own field, and then expanding their own community to a vast array of other communities, they developed, grew, and put together something quite remarkable amongst the enormous arches of super-hip Digbeth sprawling out to Birmingham University and well beyond New Street and Snow Hill.

The upshot is two solid years of quality programming of inspired and thought-provoking talks, workshops, tutorials, exhibitions, and screenings. The programme, this year, revolved around the theme of 'Truth'.

About finding honest insights and sharing them, about confronting difficult subjects head-on, and shining a light on topics which might be uncomfortable
Birmingham Design Festival

So, we boarded the VCA-mobile and hit the road to Brum! I made a bunch of notes which I’ve edited below into the highlights of our amazing time at BDF.

First thing we did was the Foilco workshop. We were given a warm welcome and an introduction to techniques and processes of working with foil. And then we were pretty much left to our own devices. Oh yeh, did we love that?! It was absolutely tremendous. After years of preparing foil artworks for print we finally got to play with the beautiful shiny stuff with our own fleshy hands. No Macs, no screens, just paper and black pens. Drawing, photocopying, choosing from a superb range of coloured papers and eye-candy foils, then through a heat press, peel back the foil and it’s time for the big reveal. Bham! I don’t think I stopped smiling during the entire workshop :)


After this Naomi and Sean went to a Procreate workshop and tutorial which they said – with bright sparkling eyes – was brilliant! Naomi is, quite probably practising working up her gorgeous illustrations into animations as you read these very words.

So, while Naomi and Sean delved into the depths of Procreate, Jo, Martin and I went to a talk by Joy Nazzari and Patrick Eley of dn&co. Their talk was great! I love listening to creatives and finding out about their processes. Nazzari and Eley structured their talk around the idea of ‘hard truths’. Five in all, with great examples of their own work, but my favourite was Hard truth #1 Low Hanging Fruit isn’t always the best. Meaning behind every easy or good idea, there is a greater one, you just have to push yourself to think a bit deeper, or reach a bit further (and then you might have to take that idea out the bin three times to convince the client it is really an amazing idea because of X, Y and Z until they finally go for it (and then are super pleased they took the risk because it totally paid off)). After the Hard Truths section, dn&co then launched the new brand for Digbeth during the festival, custard yellow in colour (you know we’re going to be attracted to that straight off!) and a bespoke typeface created in collaboration with type foundary Colophon. Digbeth Sans has many different variations and can be downloaded for free across the Digbeth neighbourhood for local businesses can pick and chose to use the one which best suits their needs. I like how this makes the area of Digbeth seat neatly within a brand, but with the flexibility to be diverse and ultimately reflect the huge character of the neighbourhood through one bostin’ typeface. You can find out more here…

After this we listened to a very positive talk from Tom Ross of The Honest Entrepreneur Show and hand lettering artist Ian Bannard empowering creatives to get to grips with marketing and use it to their advantage. Mainly focussed on social media marketing, talking about the importance of building a community one person at a time, recognising the number behind the ‘follow’ is an actual person and should be treated as an individual. Instead of trying to sell, sell, sell, put up content which your community will be interested in. If my notes are written correctly, Tom Ross said “Don’t use your audience, serve them.”

In the evening, Milan Moffatt talked so brilliantly about SuperHi, she actually made learning to code sound fun and an actual option to consider. SuperHi is an online school for people to learn how to code, at their own pace to suit their own situation. It’s flexible, global and, importantly is created by designers so it looks really good – in fact, they also just started to teach an online graphic design course. Now, while I’m all about the personal interaction (as well as pencil and paper interaction) I also absolutely love anything that enables people from all kinds of circumstance or time limitations to be able to grow their knowledge and use their creativity. Moffatt’s talk was full of genuine passion and enthusiasm for what SuperHi is and could become in the future, she was incredibly proud of her students work and was generous in telling us her story.

As we left the festival I remember we all felt messages of kindness and community were key recurring points of all the things we attended. So, with this in mind (and there wasn’t much else… we pretty tired by this point) we headed dreamily into a beautiful setting sun feeling energised, excited and inspired.

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