7 Truths from the Birmingham Design Festival

Last weekend the amazing Birmingham Design Festival set up shop across the city, to educate and inspire the creative masses. As was the case last year, the event focused on three general disciplines: Graphic, Digital & Product.

I found myself mostly in the Graphic district, which funnily enough was situated in my old university building. The BCU Parkside Building was the perfect setting for the great selection of talks on offer, as well as having Awesome Merch with their stand giving screen printing lessons. Patrick Thomas’ interactive project was also ongoing throughout the weekend.


1. Low hanging fruit is rotten.




What was so fascinating about dn&co’s work, was the sheer variety of style. Working primarily with place brands, they have cemented themselves as a premium agency creating a real sense of place within their identities. They delivered their set of ‘hard truths’, with this one hitting home the most – don’t go for the easy option! The genius Don Draper-esque lightbulb moments happen very rarely. An idea has to be worked and progressed to the most effective solution.

An amazing example of this, was dn&co’s St James’s project. With what could have been a heritage & royal focused identity, it became a more uniquely recognisable brand, focusing on the famous pelican population in the area.



We were lucky enough to witness the launch of the great new Digbeth brand, which must have been the most nerve-racking situation to be in, a London agency launching a Birmingham brand to a room packed full of Birmingham’s creative scene.




2. Do the obvious,

then do the opposite. 




With one of the most inspirational talks of the weekend, Alice Tonge showcased a variety of work from 4creative. Working with Channel 4, a channel dedicated on doing things differently. As a designer, I find it important to remember just how effective moving image can be in invoking emotion and making a point.

Similarly with dn&co’s truth, Tonge emphasised that when in the idea generation stage, layout the obvious answers, then try the total opposite, to get something truly unique.



3. Don’t let design get in

the way of the message.




Bryan Edmondson of SEA Design displayed a selection of work that screamed one thing, simplicity. It’s always a treat to view design that seems effortless, but contains substance. It’s always good to strip back to the essentials and focus on the message.





4. Designers are the gatekeepers.




I absolutely LOVED this section of Nick Asbury’s talk, not only is it making me feel more important than I actually am, it just illustrates the power of the written word. As designers, we should feel proud of what we do on a daily basis. Hopefully, after Asbury’s talk, I’ll be a better designer too.



5. A great idea can be

explained on the phone.




Michael Johnson is a Northern Bear Studio favourite. He had about 20 nuggets of wisdom we could have used as his ‘truth’. This one stuck the most though. I’ve heard this expression before, and he attributed it to a friend of his – but it really sunk in at Johnson’s talk.

Pictured below is some of the phrases he finds himself saying, when dealing with an idea that just isn’t there yet. It’s not down to an easily explainable sentence.



6. Trust in collaboration with

a singular vision.




Katherina Tudball’s in depth talk on BBC Two’s rebrand covered every aspect of a brief. The back and forth of creative ideas, compromising and ultimately creating a cohesive and expansive project.

Using a wide array of animators and artists to create the new idents, it shows the value of trusting in your collaborators. It also illustrates the importance in trusting a singular vision, not just visually but audibly, with all the sound design being created by one man; Alex Barnowski.


7. Culture is important.




The final truth, which I believe is one of the most important for agencies, has to be the focus on culture. Hey Studio have been making waves for years with their bold colourful style, and there are many projects I could highlight. What was so interesting to me was their weekly tradition to all eat pasta together on a Monday.

La Pasta o la Vida is a great example of pushing moral forward in a natural way, without the need for ‘team building exercises’. Good food, good company, great design.


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