16th June 2023

Imagine - The highlights from Birmingham Design Festival 2023

We attended BDF’s first-ever conference on Friday 9th June 2023 and it was brilliant! What a great event and a brilliant example of how extraordinary the design industry is in Birmingham. It had 800 attendees with about half being from Brum! (Well, it sounded like half the audience cheered when Birmingham was called out!).

400 hundred brilliant people coming to learn and better their design knowledge. This also meant 400 people also from all over the country and even other parts of the world coming to see what Birmingham design has got to offer!

'Imagine' was the theme and we were left with lots of inspiring things to take away from the conference. Keep reading for a breakdown of each speaker.

Marta Cerdà Alimbau | Designer & Illustrator

Marta Cerda Alimbau On Stage At BDF Talking About AI

Marta is an incredible creative working out of Barcelona. She produces lovely pieces that play with the boundaries of illustration and typography. She creates what I call ‘eye candy’ the sort of projects all designers dream of working on. I was particularly interested in the work she created for ‘Magazine’ utilising AI to create the wonderful inflatable lettering shown above. The project jumped on the ‘inflatable things’ AI trend but took it to the next level, showing how iteration and a human finishing touch is needed to perfect the art.

Left me imagining: The possibilities of AI and how AI + Human > AI alone
& AI + Human > Human alone

Lex Fefegha | co-founder & principal designer at COMUZI

Lex Fefegha At BDF Talking About Design Innovation

Lex’s talk was super inspiring. He told us about the fact he had a master's but never actually got a bachelor’s degree and showed us how determination and a great body of work can really get you places. He inspired us with the use of emerging technologies. Lex gave a big selection of examples including:

  • The use of chatbots
  • How AI and other digital technology can be used to benefit health and wellbeing.

Left me imagining: all the ways technology and design can be used together.

Oliver Jeffers | Visual Artist & Author

Oliver Jeffers At BDF

Oliver Jeffers had a great stage presence inviting us into his artistic world and how his stories began with remembering and almost striving for his childhood memories. He then discussed how that changed with the birth of his son and how he began to want to explain the world to him and see life through their eyes.

Throughout this, he weaved in examples of his artistic endeavours from massive-scale installations of the solar system to events where artwork was destroyed leaving only the viewers with the memory of what it looked like.

Left me imagining: the children’s book I need to crack on writing.

Toby Olié | Puppetry Director & Designer

Toby Olie Talking At BDF About Puppetry

Toby added a nice bit of variety to the day. I always think as a designer it’s good to immerse yourself in other arts and the things you can learn from them. With an impressive portfolio boasting work on Spirited Away (Imperial Theatre, Tokyo), Animal Farm (UK tour), 101 Dalmatians (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre) and Pinocchio (National Theatre), it was great to hear his process of maquette making, development, refining and the tight deadlines of final production that echoes common design processes too.

Left me imagining: the amazing movement of objects in puppetry bringing them alive.

Abbie Heppe | Director of Live Service at Media Molecule

Abbie Heppe At BDF Talking About The Dreams Platform

Abbie took us on a brilliant deep dive into the platform she is extremely passionate for called ‘Dreams’. Dreams is a user-generated content platform. You can learn to create games and play those made by others. The best part is all this can be done with a PlayStation controller. Abbie showed us footage of incredibly professional games and the outright weird and wacky ones too. But also, the way you can create your own terrain and even make music make in the platform.

Left me imagining: the endless possibilities of the ‘Dreams’ platform, which is certainly not just making games.

Sonal Jhuj | Global Brand Director at the LEGO Group

Sonal Jhuj At Bdf Teaching Play Frees Us

Sonal gave a great talk on her experience working at LEGO and the importance of play in our lives both as children and adults. She told us of scary airport encounters which were softened by the mention of LEGO. A security staff member reverted to a 5-year-old boy when imagining his interaction with the toy. I came away thinking play is liberating and important for all. I also thought about how lucky we are to be in an industry where play is almost the norm.

Left me imagining: Play — I will always remember to make time for play!

Gemma O'Brien | Designer & Artist

Gemma O'brien At BDF

Gemma left us in awe of her beautifully curated artwork. This is another example of the fun we can have when creating and the eye candy we can create. Gemma also spoke about how she recovered from a lull in inspiration/creative block with the use of running. She also went on to talk about the realisation that she didn’t want to be an ultra-runner but actually an ultra-artist. Gemma, I will let you in on a secret: we all want to be an ULTRA ARTIST!

Left me imagining: how I can use create artistic pieces with typography.

Brian Collins | Chief Creative Officer of COLLINS

Brian Collins At BDF

Brian gave an inspiring performance in his signature orange hat that ended spectacularly with a rendition of Do-Re-Mi — seriously, you really had to be there! Apart from being a magical finale to the day, he also gave great insight into projects for ‘Spotify’ and ‘San Francisco Symphony’ where they built design systems that allowed the staff at the companies to continue to create new artwork without breaking the brand guidelines.

Check out the interactive part of the ‘SF Symphony’ project here. He finished by talking about the progression of the industry and emerging technology. The real crescendo was the choir singing to AI-generated images of the prompts; Do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti. It is something I will never forget.

Left me imagining: how AI won’t take the jobs of designers, but will take the jobs of designers who don’t embrace it.

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