8 mins

From Volunteer to Sponsor of Birmingham Design Festival

Author James Hemmings

Date 27.05.2022

Where it all began… 

I first heard about Birmingham Design Festival whilst I was at Birmingham City University in 2018, during my third year studying a BA in Visual Communications. It was the first Birmingham Design Festival that year and looked impressive. We were encouraged to get involved as a way of networking and looking for opportunities within the industry. 

There were a few mini events at the University by the team behind the festival, with one including a call-out looking for volunteers. I signed up and worked at the festival in the Graphic District as a point of contact, ushering people into the venues, showing them seats, and looking after the speakers.  

We didn’t really watch many of the talks that year, but I did get a sneak peak of a gaming design talk: Darren Wall’s “Gamers Don’t Read” at the Birmingham & Midland Institute. It was different to what I’d experienced previously and was really fun to hear the background of the speaker and how he got to where he is now. The talk left a lasting impression and I was hooked on design talks from that day forward. 

Our final design project for that year was an app concept for the Design Festival ticketing system. In fact, the festival ended up inspiring a lot of my university projects, and we decided on that concept because of what we’d experienced there. We spoke to the organisers and there was a need for an app, they liked the concept of integrated ticketing and venues, and so we mocked up the concept.  

That could have been that, but I’d be back again before I knew it. 

Looking ahead to a future in design…

Fast forward one year later and it was the second year of the festival, and my third and final year at university. My attitude was different now. It was my 21st birthday, I had my Degree Show exhibiting my work, and both the end-of-university awards and the Birmingham Design Festival were happening at the same time.  

I remember standing in the Degree Show, looking around, and thinking, “This is it… University’s over.” To celebrate, I went to one of the big evening talks and it blew me away.  

Gavin Strange from Aardman spoke at the Millenium Point’s iMax Theatre that night. The way he spoke was energetic, funny, and how he brought his design life into his personal life and his personal life into his design life really inspired me. 

To this day I remember the quote: “I want to do all the things that excite me because… why not?” 

The design festival felt bigger and better this year, taking all the learnings of the first and applying it to the second. I also had a feeling from the first festival that there was a bigger move to web, social media… overall more digital-focused design. This influenced my interest in digital design, leading to my dissertation topic: 

How do brands use Instagram to connect with their audiences? 

Becoming a designer at a digital marketing agency…

This passion for digital played a big part in joining Brew after graduating in 2019.  

I was working in a bar in Bourneville when I saw a job ad for a digital agency in Birmingham. I remembered thinking that connects so much of what I did in my third year – my portfolio with a digital skew, my dissertation, my volunteering at Birmingham Design Festival, my passion for digital… It felt like it was meant to be, and ultimately led to me landing a job as a designer at Brew.  

Since joining the agency, I haven’t looked back, working on a variety of projects with a focus on digital, including web design projects and social media design for high-profile pub and restaurant brands.  

I recently earned a promotion and we’ve also moved into the STEAMhouse building, part of Birmingham City University, so it feels like I’ve gone full circle and still ended up where I’m meant to be. Now, all the great talks of the Birmingham Design Festival are on my doorstep and I’m a professional in the industry, rather than the student I was before. 

I’ve got access to the big, ticketed events on Thursday night and Friday night, and on Friday morning I’ll be attending “Typography for the People” with Elliot J Stocks from Google Fonts. If you didn’t know, designers love fonts. It’s kind of our thing. 

Full circle: From volunteer to sponsor of Birmingham Design Festival!

Brew decided to sponsor last year’s virtual Birmingham Design Festival and are once again sponsoring this year’s festival. To say I work for a company that sponsors Birmingham Design Festival and to have our logo at the bottom of their promos makes me really proud.  

I’ve also been told that my story and relationship with the festival is a reason why Brew decided to sponsor the event… so I’m really happy to have played a part in this. It’s great for the festival, great for the agency, great for me… and future design recruits at Brew. 

The design festival always falls on the same week as my birthday. Some people go on a night out or for a fancy meal… For me, a design talk at Birmingham Design Festival is the perfect present… followed by a few beers, of course. This is Brew, right? 

Share this post