Birmingham Design Festival

Birmingham Design Festival

29th September 2020

About a year ago I was approached by Dan Alcorn (who was known for running a well known & thriving creative meet-up group in Birmingham called Badego) to see if I’d be up for helping him put on a more substantial design event in 2018. His invitation came as I was in the middle of curating a Glug Type special, and being a reluctant public speaker myself I thought it might be more fun to be even further behind the scenes… Fast forward to last week and in the midst of organising we took a pause & had a chat to share how we’re going about putting on a big design event (for the first time).

It sounds self explanatory, but what exactly is the Birmingham Design Festival? 

BDF will run from 7th -10th June 2018, in multiple venues across the city of Birmingham. For four days we will be celebrating the design industry from traditional graphic design, to digital design, animation, architecture, product design and pretty much everything in between.

Birmingham is developing a wonderful tradition of excellent arts festivals that happen year round, but there was definitely a hole for designers working in and around the region wanting to come together to experience a programme of high quality design lectures and workshops.

We’ve split the city into 3 districts (Graphic, Digital and Product) to allow visitors to immerse themselves in a particular field of interest with events happening in very close proximity of each other. The wonderful thing about Birmingham however is that everything is very close together, so if you fancy a more holistic approach to the festival visiting multiple districts the furthest distance of travel is 15 minutes from venue to venue which means you’ll really be able to cram in a lot in your time here.


‘Graphic Means’ screening promotion, in collaboration with BCU Type Talks.

Your audience is primarily creatives – how important was the festival branding? 

Birmingham has a strong history of industrial design and craft that we wanted to use to inform the identity. Jewellery design is such a big part of the heritage of the city it became a natural reference point for the design of branding. We took inspiration from the Birmingham Assay mark, a compulsory mark in the shape of an anchor that has adorned Jewellery from the city since the 1700s, to create a monogram using the BDF initials. Studying the shapes of other hallmarks gave us a series of carriers we could us to compliment the brand.

Combining these with Birmingham’s traditional  colours of blue and red, and typefaces inspired by the lettering applied to the warehouses around the city, we’ve created a modern brand that tells a story of Birmingham. Finished off with Baskerville (who is buried in Birmingham’s historic Jewellery Quarter) as our long form copy typeface we’ve managed to create something unique to the city that we as a team are very proud of.


Modular ‘carrier’ branding inspired by jewellery hallmarks.

Events are notoriously hard work, how does someone go about setting up a design festival

In this instance the festival something that has been a natural progression of things since I moved to the city. I’ve been involved various initiatives to promote culture in Birmingham whilst working full time as a designer since I moved to the city. In 2014 I took over a creative meet up called Badego and that’s expanded to put on events and workshops as well as staying true to the meet up format. We’ve been really successful and have 3,000 members on Meet Up making us one of the biggest in the region.

Over the past few years I’ve seen the appetite for art and design grow in the city dramatically, with events such as Glug, Canvas Conference, Flatpack and Birmingham Weekender grow year on year. It felt like we were in the right position to pull together a team to create a festival, which also tied in nicely with my role at Substrakt – creating digital products for arts organisations.

I met with you (Luke) because of your own impressive design work (and yes, connections) – you seemed like a perfect partner to collaborate with and so we contacted other designers and event organisers in the city who we knew well and who we felt would mix well as a team, we then began bouncing ideas off of each other for how the festival might work. Over the course of the past few months we’ve been honing our plans, contacting people to participate from both a speaker and funding point of view. This has been the hardest part, showing people that we’re serious so that they will invest their time and money in with us. As more people have gotten involved this has become easier and we’re well on the road to creating the festival we wanted to at the outset. It’s immensely exciting and terrifying at the same time. We definitely still require some funding though, so if you have the means we’d love to hear from you!


What kinds of speakers are you hoping to attract? 

The mantra of the festival has always been to bring world class talent to the city as well as celebrating the local scene. Last week we had the pleasure of announcing Anthony Burrill, Marina Willer, Jack Renwick and Jim Sutherland. We’ll be announcing more of this ilk, as well as people from around the country with interesting stories to tell of their work and life in design, or ideas that will help shape the industry. It’s also really important for us to showcase the great design that happens in Birmingham, there hasn’t been much of a platform for that before and we see it as a key part of the festival for now and years to come.

Diversity is incredibly important to us, and we hope that when the final speaker list is announced there is good representation. Badego has maintained a 50/50 split of male/female speakers in my time running it, as well as a good proportion of non-white speakers. Badego does have the advantage of being across the arts and not just design though, and has a much wider pool to choose from. Getting a good balance has been hard so far, as an example from our call to entires that we launched last week – 90% of the respondents have been male! As a result, I would encourage women and POC to please get in touch with us if you have a great idea for a talk or workshop, the platform is there for you and we would love to put you on a metaphorical stage.

There’s going to be quite a broad spectrum of disciplines involved in the festival. Graphic design, typography, photography, animation, design for film and tv, game design, architecture, jewellery design, product design, UX/UI – just to name a few. The goal with the speakers is to create a programme that caters to industry professionals but also has something for an audience with a passing interest in design. This is where the more entertainment led genres like gaming and design for film & TV come into play. We’re hoping to have some family led events to get the kids involved too.


The first speaker announcement.

Some festivals hit and run, others become part of the fabric of a city. What do you hope will happen with BDF longer term in and for Birmingham? 

We hope to keep BDF as an annual thing, growing organically and becoming a mainstay in the festival calendar for Birmingham. Whilst our focus will be to put on great events in a programme around June, we want to continue to have a presence in the city throughout the year, spearheading the growth of the design community and being a voice for designers in important issues that effect the industry in and around Birmingham.

The goal for the festival is to link up a somewhat fragmented yet very talented and hardworking design scene in the city, if we can achieve that and do things to inspire and delight others along the way I will be very happy.


Follow the Birmingham Design Festival on twitter, instagram & facebook.

Sign up to volunteer here and to sponsor here.


Liked this? Try these…

#festival #conference #events