Birmingham Design Festival 2022

13th June 2022

In this ‘new normal’ of hybrid work environments, time away from your desk becomes increasingly important, especially if you’re working from a kitchen table or cramped box room! Whether it’s simply getting into the habit of taking your allotted lunch break, a 5 min coffee or even a trip away for some inspiring talks and workshops with your colleagues every now and again – time away can be just as valuable as time spent at a desk, offering recuperation, newfound inspiration and prevent burn out from developing.

In the creative industry and at least for us, time away from our desks helps us to gather new thoughts & inspiration (from almost anything!), discover new industry practices and technology and give our brains a rest and a fresh perspective from any project we may be struggling with – it happens to the best of us.

This is our third year taking time out to visit Birmingham Design Festival, and every year we are astounded by what it has to offer. This year, the festival theme was ‘freedom’ – something that we’ve all become reaccustomed to in 2022, thankfully.

Speakers of the festival were asked what freedom is to them:

We thought we’d answer ourselves too:


Freedom is… self-sustainability.

Growing your own, learning to live with less of a tie to the system, which when we look at what the world churned out over the past two years, can be very helpful! It brings more financial freedom and less reliability on the normal way of living.


Freedom is... a break from my brain!

A feeling of inner-peace. When momentarily everything in your life has balance, worries are minimal, mind is cleared, and you can just let it be.

Sadly, I don't seem to have many freedom moments. But when I do, they’re magical.


Freedom is...

When I finally have my own space again (fingers and toes crossed this house purchase goes through!)

Chocolate with impact

We kicked off the two days with a talk from our favourite chocolate staple: Tony’s Chocolonely. The talk focussed on the evolution of the product as an impact-company that makes chocolate. They only exist to achieve 100% slave-free chocolate, not only with their own chocolate bar but with all chocolate worldwide.

Tony’s takeaways

  • 60% of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa. 1,560,000 children work on those farms. 95% of those children are doing hazardous work to pick the cocoa beans that go into the 7 big companies producing chocolate. 30,000 instances of modern slavery via trafficking exist.
  • 7 big companies control the world’s chocolate production (wow!)
  • The awkward shape of the Tony’s chocolate bar is purposely annoying. It exists to show the unequal divide of fairness and wealth in the chocolate industry. So next time you break a bar into pieces and one person gets a giant piece, you know why!


Game show vibes 👇👇👇

The importance is in the briefs 🩲 

Our second talk with illustration studio Handsome Frank focussed on the parts of the creative industry we enjoy less, but are equally as important. Things like pricing, marketing ourselves, and occasional awkward struggles with clients that nobody wants to have.

Our biggest take away from this and something we value massively as a design studio was the importance of getting a brief right at the very beginning of a project. We are graphic communicators and communication is key! We owe it to ourselves and to our clients to gather as much information as possible when we take on a project. Not only will this make our lives easier as designers, but it also ensures a smooth process from beginning to end and is a massive contributor to us having few projects to date that need serious changing or amends post-presentation. Yay!

Small studio thinking with Supple Studio

Next up, Jamie Ellul & Yee Poon of Supple Studio on how too much creative freedom in a project can be difficult and their mantra ‘small studio thinking’.

We saw some beautiful projects from the studio from process to completion, including the Squirrels brand identity for Scouts. They seriously nailed the whole project from start to finish with everything from tone of voice to merchandise.  

Aside from loving the honest and vibrant personalities of Jamie and Yee, we also loved their ‘small studio thinking’ mantra. Being a small studio ourselves, it was reassuring to know that so many other companies in the design industry value finding the right members of the team and actually choose to remain a small team/studio. Proving that a small studio can be just as mighty as a large one when it has the right fit of people and personalities.

We ended the first day with some cocktails for Lauren’s birthday and survival of ‘the 27 club’  and an (unexpected, but great nonetheless) feathery burlesque show and street food under the disco balls at Mama Roux *jazz hands*.

Afterwards we managed to fit in a game of bowling at the home of ‘Booze and ball games’ Roxy Ballroom and at least 238129038493843 basketball hoop tournaments where our competitive natures and impeccable co-ordination after a few drinks really shone. We’ve since realised that a basketball hoop is a must when the new studio renovation is done, maybe matching Parade basketball jerseys too?!

Day two - Design the world you want to live in

On day two we kicked off the morning with a heart-warming talk from Sisterhood, “Girl-led, proven positive change and impact with education and creativity hand in hand with girls rights and youth culture.”

With some bleak (and almost emotional) facts and figures on female-equality, this talk opened our eyes to how making the design world an accessible and diverse community, can literally change the world. You want something changed in the world? Change it!

We are communicators after all and have the power to make important communication visually appealing. People are much more likely to make change based on a really beautiful looking project with a great concept, than a 10 page word document with bullet points. We are for sure!

The power is literally at the palm of our hand and in our Bezier curves. Design the world you want to live in.

How can I be a better designer?

We ended the final day with a packed talk ‘How can I bet a better designer?’ by Annabel Welbury from F37. We have no doubt that this talk was packed because of a combination of the beautiful, minimal and ground-breaking branding, fonts, creative coding and publishing the studio produce, and also because every designer always wants to be better (imposter syndrome and all that!)

We’re now back at our desks, Monday morning is a little bit easier and our brains and notebooks are a little fuller. Another festival over, we have a load of great memories to look back on.

Every year that we visit the festival, the city seems to get better and better, with a load of regeneration and digging happening all at once. Maybe it’s because we’re from Newport, but as always, we love the industrial & creative vibrancy of the city, especially Digbeth and The Custard Factory.

Hats off to the creators of Birmingham Design Festival and everyone involved in pulling it off. It is astounding that this brilliant festival is predominantly free. We’ll see you all next year!

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