Birmingham Design Festival exhibition 2

I don’t know about you, but isn’t it empowering that Birmingham have hosted their very first design festival? As Birmingham born and bred Trevor Beattie, BMB co-founder, aptly put it: “Although us Brummies seem to have elevated self-deprecation to a art form, there’s no-one prouder of their city than us.”

The festival – divided into three Design Districts across the city; Graphic, Digital and Product – was a celebration of the local, national and international design industry held over four days. Creating an opportunity for Birmingham to proudly fly their creative flag, put ‘us’ on the design map and show the world what we’re made of. Disclaimer: not all amazing design comes out of London folks!

Kicking things off on the opening night: An Evening Extravaganza of Printed Passion! where speakers Rejane Dal Bello, Craig Oldham, Astrid Stavro and Anthony Burrill stepped into the (blindingly bright) spotlight- a collective of talented designers by day that transform into stand-up comedians by night- to discuss their universal passion for print and unadulterated joy of paper.

In a world where the phone in our hand has a sneaky habit of infiltrating our entire life, there’s something comforting (dare I say it, a little retro) in bringing us back to the tactility of paper. Rejane, founder of a London-based graphic design studio, opened her talk with the rather (in)appropriate analogy: “digital is for porn, print is for sex”. Her point being? There’s no mistaking the real deal.

Creator of beautiful books and known for his frank delivery, Craig Oldham describes himself as ‘Designer, Educator, Writer, Procrastinator, Artist, Publisher, Film-maker, Philanthropist, Intervenor, Letter-writer, Theorist, Website-Up-Putter, Lamenter, Conspiracist, and Yorkshireman’. He shared the story of his Dad getting arrested in the coal mine strikes and the subsequent book he created, ‘In Loving Memory of Work’, a visual record of the UK miner’s strike, to pay homage to those that were affected. Whilst Rejane shared her passion for pro-bono work, in particular her self-funded Dr. Giraffe book series, helping parents with the difficult task of explaining illnesses to their children.

Both cases demonstrating that whilst thoughtful graphic design and a nice type is often pleasing on the eye, when put to worthy task, design has a very meaningful and highly emotive role to play in everyday life.

Each of the speakers were honest, hilarious, and fascinating all at once. Hearing their own personal paths to print was a real inspiration; to the point where I wanted to return home that night and start creating a book of my very own. Nothing wrong with a bit of wine-fueled ambition, right?

In and amongst the talks we also learnt how to screen-print a tote bag with the fabulous guys at Awesome Merch. A few of our own Green Room designers tried their hand at foiling with Foilco, while we also explored the FORWARD THINKING exhibition at Medicine Bakery, showcasing 34 designers that came together to celebrate how design will shape the future of our city.


So then on to ‘The Big One’, the most-awaited talk of the festival: An Illuminating Celebration of Colour, Craft & Creativity! with The Yarza Twins, Tom Muller and the ultimate graphic design king, Aaron Draplin.

The Yarza Twins, Marta & Eva, took us through their whacky and wonderful work; the distinctive styling of the characters they create is unusual and unmistakably ‘them’- you only have to look at their packaging designs for HP X Smirnoff to get a feel for their creativity and vibrancy. Next up to the stage was Tom Muller, sharing his true passion for comic book design, having designed the Suicide Squad logo for DC comics along with many other striking cover designs.

Finally, the man himself. BDF promised that Draplin’s session “is sure to leave you sweaty, challenged, changed, and quite possibly ready to take on the world”, and it did not disappoint. Aaron Draplin is a graphic designer and founder of Draplin Design Co. (DDC), and a down to earth, all-round awesome guy with many pearls of wisdoms to share, with a larger than life personality to boot. He also happened to be absolutely hilarious- maybe it’s a design prerequisite?

A motivating dose of life lessons intertwined with a large helping of design was the order of the evening, and it was fair to say, I was almost ready to take on the world.

Draplin pearls of wisdom included:

• You can get inspiration from everything around you – he created his own typeface from some letters he found on a metal gate

• The little jobs are just as important as the big jobs

• Work hard and do something you enjoy

• Draw, draw and draw some more – it’s the leg work that you don’t see behind his designs


I know that as I’m writing this it sounds clichéd to say, but I left feeling inspired by each and every one of designers I had the pleasure of listening to, or meeting over the festival. I guess creative passion has an infectious habit of rubbing off on you like that and we should embrace this in every way possible.

Until next year, BDF!

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