A creative adventure at the Birmingham Design Festival

I recently attended the Birmingham Design Festival, a creative adventure that left me buzzing with fresh ideas and inspiration. The festival spanned two days, the first filled with workshops and the second took the form of a conference held at The Rep Theatre in Birmingham. I had the opportunity to listen to a fantastic lineup of speakers from diverse creative backgrounds, making it an unforgettable experience.
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I recently attended the Birmingham Design Festival, a creative adventure that left me buzzing with fresh ideas and inspiration. The festival spanned two days, the first filled with workshops and the second took the form of a conference held at The Rep Theatre in Birmingham. I had the opportunity to listen to a fantastic lineup of speakers from diverse creative backgrounds, making it an unforgettable experience. Here, I’ll share a run down of the conference, including my favourite speaker and the Oliver Jeffers merch I managed to get my hands on!

A day filled with creative inspiration

The conference day at the Birmingham Design Festival was brilliant, packed with captivating talks and eye-opening presentations. Each speaker brought a unique perspective and I loved seeing their particular creative processes and learning how they could help improve my own.

Marta Cerdà Alimbau

Kicking off the day was Marta Cerdà Alimbau, a designer and illustrator. She took us on a journey exploring the fusion of typography and illustration. She also explained how AI can be used effectivity to aid creativity and how AI-created imagery can be utilised within her finished designs. Alimbau’s eclectic style pushes the limits, reminding us that creativity thrives when we embrace collaboration and expand our horizons.

Lex Fefegha

Co-founder & designer at COMUZI, spoke about his inventive approach to design. His ability to prototype emerging tech products and experiences was inspiring. It’s exciting to see how his innovative ideas will continue to transform the creative landscape. I loved Lex’s down-to-earth presentation and enjoyed hearing about his route to where he is today. Proof that passion and handwork are always essential to ever project you undertake if you want to succeed. 

Oliver Jeffers

Then it was the incredible Oliver Jeffers, the multi-talented visual artist and author. I sat next to my friend, who is Jeffers mega fan and then realised that most of the audience was. Jeffers effortlessly blends various art forms, from painting to sculpture, and injects curiosity and humour into his work. His talk had us pondering the human mind’s perception of the world while delivering a much-needed dose of comic relief in the face of life’s challenges. I loved the playful way he began his talk, with a game of noughts and crosses and black and white drawings of crayons, which we were asked to guess the colour of – suspiring easily actually and a reminder how pictures speak louder than words (haha, sorry copywriter friends!)

Toby Olié

Director and puppeteer designer, concluded the morning session with a magical presentation on his design process. His ability to bring characters to life through puppetry, combining traditional and innovative techniques, was truly mesmerizing. Toby’s portfolio of work spans plays, musicals, opera including War Horse and My Neighbour Totoro, which I desperately want to go and see now! His craft is something completely new to me and because of that it was extra intriguing to see his creative process. He shared lots of hand-drawn sketches (which I loved seeing!) and footage from rehearsals where his team trialled different prototypes to refine the finished puppet and how the puppeteers interact. A nice reminder that getting ‘wrong’ is good and part of the process. 

Abbie Heppe

In the afternoon Abbie Heppe, Director of Live Service at Media Molecule, brought her expertise in community engagement and live game development to the stage. Her insights into fostering online communities and using analytics to shape online services were interesting. It was something completely new to me I’m more board games than computer, but I found her talk really interesting as like Toby Olié, it opened up a whole new world to me.

Sonal Jhuj

The Global Brand Director at the LEGO Group, stole the show for me with her talk on the theme of “Play.” Her passion for inspiring the world to play more and the profound impact it has on us resonated deeply with me, and I also managed to chat with her afterwards, (from what I remember I just totally fan-girled her, but I’m not even sorry!) Jhuj’s insights into the future of play, culture, and the role of brands in shaping a thriving world were thought-provoking and perfectly linked to thoughts I’ve already been having around the importance of having fun, for fun’s sake (That’s another blog for another time). Her talk was incredibly engaging and I was torn at times between listening to what she was saying vs how she was saying it. It got me thinking a lot about how I can improve my presentation skills in pitches and how you can command a space with humour and warmth and yet still be a complete authority on what you’re talking about.

Gemma O’Brien

The day was rounded off but Gemma O’Brien, an internationally renowned designer and artist, showcased her bold graphics, illustrative lettering, and breathtaking murals. Her extensive portfolio includes collaborations with industry giants like Apple, Nike, and Google.

Brian Collins

And then finally Brian Collins, the Chief Creative Officer of COLLINS, wowed with his company’s innovative approach to experience design. Their groundbreaking work has earned them recognition as one of the companies reshaping the future of brand building, and it’s easy to see why.

Retail therapy

I’m not going to lie, my favourite part of any art gallery trip is always the gift shop (there I said it). And I had high hope for the shopping opportunities at the Festival. It didn’t disappoint!

As well as a plethora of beautiful design and art-related books the highlight was lots of Oliver Jeffers march, which included a cool pencil tee and slogan jumper, which I now own. Just in case any of my loved ones read this (it’s a good test really to see if they read this) I also really wanted the Oliver Jeffers book, ’There’s a Ghost in this House” book and Mr Bingo’s ‘Don’t Forget to Have Fun’ sculpture. 

I would highly recommend the Birmingham Design Festival online shop if you’re looking for birthday gifts for your creative friends.

Beyond the talks and merch

I think one of the nicest things about the day was being surrounded by so many talented creatives, many from the Midlands, and feeling really proud that Birmingham has such a brilliant event to celebrate. Catching up with familiar faces was lovely and I really did leave feeling inspired and uplifted. 

Already have the dates for next year’s three-day festival saved in my calendar – it’s the 6th, 7th and 8th of June if you fancy coming along.

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