10 mins


We love you Birmingham

Date 23.11.2017

Something’s brewing in Birmingham. Something big.

In the month it was confirmed that Birmingham is the fastest growing city to live and work in the UK. Four events in the last month sum up this wave of growth and excitement; Tedx Brum, Canvas Conf, Type Talk and Glug Brum. And we were lucky enough to be at the lot of them.


Date: Sunday 15th October
Venue: Birmingham Hippodrome

Our first TEDx, but certainly not our last (in fact our very own Kirstie Smith and Ryan Noble were responsible for social media at TEDxLeamington this past weekend), was an incredibly slick, inspiring event held at the iconic Birmingham Hippodrome. The theme this year was ‘Perceptions’, summarised by Immy Kaur who was curating TEDxBrum for her sixth and final time: “Instead of saying one viewpoint is valid and another is invalid, we learn more about the reality by sharing perceptions.”

For those new to TEDx, they’re usually talks centred around a well-formed idea relating to an overarching theme. Talks included Catherine Allen, highlighting the move away from staring at rectangle screens to more immersive experiences through VR as an art form; Glenn Howells, talking about the future opportunity of our city and how we need to grow; science magician, Dr Matt Pritchard, highlighting the importance of wonder; and the enigmatic Sunny Sangha, UK Ambassador for the Democracy Earth Foundation, talking about a potential new political landscape and movement.

Our favourite learnings:

The importance of wonder

‘You don’t always need to know the answers immediately – allow the brain to wonder the how and the why’ as explained by Dr Matt Pritchard

Influences of growth

Growth can sometimes come from the most unlikely of places. For example, Glenn Howells believes for Birmingham to develop as a city, considerations of density and small-scale interventions can help shape the future.

Canvas Conf

Date: 26th October
Venue: Birmingham Town Hall

Canvas Conf is a one-day event providing the inside stories from brands, hosted in the beautifully refurbished Town Hall. Canvas Conf introduced an array of high-caliber speakers from Microsoft, Google, BuzzFeed, Tumblr and All4 (not bad eh!), but some of the stories of the day also came from some of the smaller, disruptive organisations.

Highlights included Haiyan Zhangm, innovation director at Microsoft Labs, talking about starring on BBC’s Big Life Fix, her work on Hackathon, and the positive impact of technology on people’s lives.

Zan Gilani, product manager at free language-learning platform, Duolingo, on how they use techniques from the gaming world such as streaks to engage their 200m users in learning.

Hugo Cornejo, head of design at banking solution, Monzo, delivered a fantastic presentation on how they built a bank.

Emma Coats told us how she created a tone of voice for Google Assistant in the same way as creating dialogue for a book or a film. Followed by the final talk of the day from Jeffrey Veen, the man behind the Google Analytics redesign on the crafting of a creative culture.

Our favourite learnings:

Smaller details can have the biggest impact on the user

You just need to hear the pleasant ‘ding’ of a reward on Duolingo or learn more about the upcoming drunk mode on the Monzo app (to stop you spending after a few too many) to understand this.

Look for root causes rather than blame

In a company’s culture, this could be done by using the Japanese method of ‘5 whys’ analysis where the question ‘why’ is asked five times as a problem-solving tool. This was highlighted by Jeffrey Veen, who asked “why?” five times and traced a serious issue on the production line at Amazon back to staff not having anywhere to put their bags and fixed the issue. Problem solved.

TypeTalk in collaboration with Birmingham Design Festival

Date: 6th November
Venue: BCU

On an autumnal Monday evening we ventured out to the fantastic modern media facilities of Birmingham City University where we settled into our lecture theatre seats, balancing our free popcorn on our laps.

What followed was an engaging talk from Adrian Shaughnesy, who introduced a film he features in called “Graphic Means: A History of Graphic Design Production”. The film provided a fascinating exploration of graphic design production from the 1950s to the 1990s.

Details of next year’s Birmingham Design Festival were also revealed by organisers Daniel Alcorn and Luke Tonge. The reveal included details of four themed zones being created in different parts of the city – Graphic, Product, Motion and Interactive – including workshops, talks, exhibitions and demonstrations and screenings.

Our favourite learnings:

The impact of digital on graphic design

Everything changed in graphic design with the introduction of the Apple Mac, but one significant thing was the client relationship, as Adrian Shaughnesy explained – the fact that clients knew that changes could be made quicker than ever changed the designer-client relationship forever. We can vouch for this one.

Birmingham Design Festival is coming

Yes, it’s heading to Brum over the following dates 7th – 10th June ’18 and the team are looking for volunteers.

Glug Birmingham

Date: 15th November
Venue: Mama Roux, Digbeth

Probably the smallest and edgiest of the four venues, but perfect for Glug Birmingham, focused on the theme of ‘Play’. Glug champions creative communities around the world and the Birmingham version is organized by Lisa Hassell from We Are Goodness.

There were four speakers at Glug Birmingham, kicking off with Emily Jost from House of Illustration, highlighting all of the great work being done by the only museum in the UK focused on illustration. We got a behind-the-scenes look Joto – a new robotic drawing board that turns pixels into pen and ink, which was incredibly cool.

Roscoe Williamson from MassiveMusic delivered a talk which highlighted the importance of ‘sonic branding’, expressing how music can be used to bring people together, share stories, and reach new audiences. Last, but not least, was Gordon Reid from Middleboop who fired advice (and a few gags) into a crowd of budding creatives, based on his own experiences over the last ten years.

Our favourite learnings:

Sonic branding is important and can help you stand out from the crowd

Roscoe from MassiveMusic sings the praises of music and sound as an important part of brand creation, saying that this should be thought about alongside the visual components.

Time is your most valuable commodity

Think about your use of time and where it’s best spent. You could create a check-list with key criteria (eg. Am I going to learn something? Is the money good? Is the client appealing?) to ensure the work you do matches these criteria. Sound advise from Gordon Reid.

In summary – We love you Birmingham

After a great month of events, all nestled in our hometown of Birmingham, there have been plenty of learnings and ideas for us to take away and digest in our own time. Hopefully you found a few insights that resonated with you, giving you a new-found affection for the home we call Brum.

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