9 mins

Imagine! Birmingham Design Festival 2023

Date 13.07.2023

We designers ventured out from behind our desks to attend the highly anticipated Birmingham Design Festival 2023. The event offered different ways to explore our creativity via workshops based around this year’s theme, “Imagine”.

Luke, Dan and all the BDF team, once again, curated another fantastic event with an international line up featuring design industry royalty. The conference was held at The Rep, while the interactive workshops were conducted at Birmingham City University, which was a brilliant way to showcase key speakers while putting the learning into practice with these stellar creators.

What we saw and did?

We kicked off the first day of events with designers Jim and James getting crafty at the ‘Animade Frames’ Workshop, bringing life to hand drawn sketches in just seconds. Ed Barrett the co-founder and creative director of Animade gave his insight on breaking the barriers of creation. His solution aims to stand up to expensive software, opening up the avenues of creativity. Here’s what we made, transforming just 8 frames into captivating, looping animations.

Shout out to James, our Junior Designer for keeping it on brand!

The fun didn’t stop there, as next up was a masterclass by design royalty Brian Collins and Creative Director Astrid Stavro of COLLINS. The class gave a fantastical experience showing how even the unplanned can be memorable; from launching chocolate into the crowd, to shouting at us and pointing guns (toy ones I might add).

After gorging on the afternoon slump blocking chocolates, we were given a creative brain warming exercise that took us all the way back to childhood. Remembering our favourite things, what we liked to do, and dreams we had to encourage us to own who we are.

With our childlike minds prepped we were armed with sharpies and small pieces of card. A drawing exercise! Something that could strike fear into the heart of a creative who’s sketches often like to remain hidden, it could be worse…It got worse! Armed with just 30 seconds, we needed to draw the person to the left or right, using our dominant hand. Cue awkward drawing!

After some questionable yet passable attempts, we thought we we’re out the other side… Not quite.

Switching to our non-dominant hand, drawing upside-down, without taking the pen of the paper… and in just 15seconds, draw the same person. Cue, Mild Creative Panic.

Please feel free to observe, laugh, or even cry at our creations!
It’s ALIVE! IT’S ALIVE… Sorry Frankenstein moment.
Also try it, It’s a brilliant ice breaker.

What was the point of the exercise? Well in its simplest form it was a standard design challenge. Produce something with set parameters. What it did was not only reaffirm the speed and iterative nature of sketching ideas. It also highlighted the element of the design process that can get forgotten. Joy.

It was a resounding result that most people preferred the second drawing. They appeared to have a more dynamic, free feel, with more personality. A vivid reminder that even with perceptually silly parameters, creativity can exist and thrive.

Our minds warmed, Astrid calmly revealed stories of how COLLINS as an agency processes projects and deals with clients. Particularly when showing new ideas to clients, that we should instruct the client to ‘leave the devil at the door’. The act of encouraging only positive feedback on these fragile things called ideas was enlightening. It made total sense that if we provide a frame for negative thinking that’s all we’ll get. Some plasters were ripped off, revealing the realities of agency life no matter the client or size of business, with the goal to OWN IT! BE WHO YOU ARE! Whatever that might be!

Our eyes now closed, and Brian worming a picture into our brains of a Spanish galleon out at sea, and to its left another ship. On the top of that ship a flag. On the Flag, A skull and crossed bones. Pirates.

And just when I thought we’d lost track of the ‘Branding’ element of the workshop… Brian revealed that ‘Branding’ is a Promise’, performed over time.

As you sailed closer, the brand promise is reinforced by everything you see. A cannon fires, shots go off: the brand promise becomes brand immersion. In three hours, maybe less, the brand delivers everything it promised: pillage, and maybe a less than hopeful hostage situation.

The fulfilment of the skull-and-crossbones “brand promise” was so consistent over the years, that by the 1800s, pirates didn’t even need to waste gunpowder. They had only to raise the black flag to yield the desired results (surrender, fear, free doubloons and maybe some tea). Pirates succeeded as they connected brand promise to performance.

We opened our eyes, only to be greeted by a gun pointing back at us!
Ok Brian! We understand! We promise!

Birmingham Design Festival Day 2

We sailed into the second day with eager excitement for the stellar conference lineup. A sunshine-filled morning showing Birmingham and revamped Centenary Square in all its glory, and only made better with a classic event tote and #BFF freebies!

First up was AI-generated Marta Cerdà Alimbau and she didn’t disappoint with an amazing exploration of the graphical tension between typography and illustration. Her beautifully emotive work was routed in a functional process, including the super relevant explorations of AI generated artwork. Marta showed her process in producing the work for ‘Magazine’ on the topic of trends of 2023. She presented AI’s creative potential and its barriers, particularly around monetisation. An age-old creative’s proposition of high-quality work takes high-quality tools, but often have a wallet-wobbling cost assigned to them.

Proving silence and action have more weight over talking at times. Oliver Jeffers started with a simple game of Tic-Tac-Toe, breaking the ice into a wizard-like presentation of visual storytelling. A firm favourite in the households of many a young family (mine to boot), owing to his ability to make super complex world effecting topics into simple and hopeful stories. His playfulness and desire to create is insatiable, proven with his vast career spanning over 20 years. A wanting reminder of our smallness, in such a big world. Oliver’s untiring skew of positively optimistic perspectives was a life-rousing pep talk about the responsibilities we have as humans.

Revelling in the glow from the previous presentations, and as a brilliant Segway into the next. Global Brand Director at LEGO Group, Sonal Jhul swept us away into the wildly creative world of kids, and how LEGO are targeting society and cultures to set humans free through play. She gave a brilliant and perhaps harsh reminder, that we need to do and encourage more playing. Obviously as kids, but especially and more importantly as adults where rules and social norms dictate the run of the day.

I am sure like most, LEGO has featured in all our lives, and not to say LEGO hasn’t done their part to intentionally encourage this. It does bring to light our desire, ability and need to discover the world through play. She called to arms, the designers of Birmingham but also the world to ‘Design for Play’. To remove the stagnant barriers to creativity, break the rules. Create environments and places that breed, cultivate and grow this often-forgotten humanism. We need to “Play On the Grass”.

We also jumped eyes wide into the stunning bold hand lettering work from Gemma O’Brien. Explored the benefits of creating and allowing communities to create and shaking the gaming industry foundations in the process thanks to Abbie Heppe. We also discovered the immersive world of puppetry design with Toby Olié, earning how someone from a different discipline works to realise their vision through experimental iteration. We were also inspired by innovations from Lex Fefegha and the team at COMUZI on how the team are redefining racial bias in AI tools and reframing the vision of local level healthcare.


What did we learn?

  • Leave the devil at the door – a brilliantly simple mantra to encourage only positive feedback on these creations we make. Why do we need to invite the negative? How often does is kill an idea before it’s even started? Looking forward to testing this out on our next project.
  • Brand like a pirate – we’ll soon be elevating our branding services to help businesses start from scratch or elevate their brand to new directions (and possibly start wearing a parrot on my shoulder). Taking our brand promise of delivering other brands their digital best.
  • Have hope – we’re all guilty of sweating the small stuff, and with Oliver Jeffers ringing in our ears. We’ll be making sure we take a zoom out every now and then, refocus and refuel our hope tanks. A childlike reminder that anything is possible with kindness and compassion.
  • Play on the grass – we’ll be designing with ‘Play’ in mind. We’ll be incorporating play through self-initiated creative and technical experimentation. Looking to facilitate environments for joy, and playfulness to exist.

And finally…

As we bid adieu to Birmingham Design Festival 2023, we are left brimming with inspiration, and renewed vigour. The festival served as a thirst-quenching creative juice refill that we can excitingly apply to our own work and client campaigns.

Until the next Birmingham Design Festival, take a look at how we re-imagining the identity of a well-loved Jewellery Quarter pub. Want to elevate your business marketing? Drop us a line and discover how our design team can help.

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