Design. It’s not just a London thing.

June 2018 saw the inaugural Birmingham Design Festival. Our designer Sam went to see what was happening.

A stellar line-up of talks, workshops, exhibitions and screenings. Almost 100 events (mostly free) spread across four days.

We enjoyed a talk on brutalist artifacts featured in the sci-fi hit Blade Runner 2049. The Forward Thinking Exhibition featured work from 34 designers and illustrators based in Birmingham. Pop-up bookshops, a Star Wars screening and talk, designer merch, the list goes on.

Then the main event. The Yarza Twins, Tom Muller and Aaron Draplin were talking all things design in the Royal Birmingham Conservatoire.

Up first were Marta and Eva Yarza. They told the audience how, aged just 18, they saved an old bread factory in their hometown of Vigo, Spain from being demolished. They designed a new identity for the factory and as a result it’s going to be renovated in the near future. Trippy visuals for an MTV campaign followed, along with a re-design of the “boring” Smirnoff bottle. All wrapped up with an Eminem quote – “Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity. To seize everything you ever wanted in one moment. Would you capture it or just let it slip?” An incredibly enthusiastic and motivational talk.

Tom Muller spoke next. A self-professed “comic nerd”, he sprinted across the stage and introduced his showreel, cut to an upbeat Nine Inch Nails track. Influenced in his youth by comic books and his dad’s career as an interior designer, he incorporates distressed collages and glitchy graphics into his comic book covers and logos. He has an interesting approach to comic book covers, trying to convey the narrative and tone through a mix of image, typography and colour rather than plastering the main character over the front like most.

We ended the day by listening to Aaron Draplin, a prolific logo designer whose charisma and content would interest anyone, designer or not. Draplin prides himself on working for not only the big guys, but the little ones too – “I got paid $25,000 for one of these logos, another I got paid a burrito.” He clearly loves what he does and his passion is infectious. He also shares some of his more personal design stories – the loss of his Father and how design can work as an outlet for grief: “My Dad designed me and at the end I got to design my dad’s life and his death. I got to use that skill for the scary shit too because it’s not always about the paycheck”. Aaron’s straight-talking approach is reflected in his work. It’s bold and industrial. He doesn’t follow design trends, which means his designs work now and well into the future.

It’s going to be a tough act to follow, but Birmingham Design Fest has firmly placed itself with the likes of London as a centre for design, and with a 2019 follow-up already announced I’m excited to see what’s in store.