Monday, 4 November 2013

Design Manchester 13 - conference review



Thursday 31st October saw the Design Manchester 13 festival come to a height with a half day conference full of talks, portfolios and interesting issues centering around the theme of longevity in design.


Some of the creative industry's top dogs came together in the gorgeous Manchester Town Hall to discuss these themes and give their takes on what makes design timeless both aesthetically and ergonomically.  There was a full crowd in attendance, students and professionals alike and it was great to see such enthusiasm for the creative arts and the issues surrounding it in this area.


I was lucky enough to win a ticket to these talks from Design Week who were sponsoring the event (thanks to them!); and it was fab to see the G F Smith paper team supporting another brilliant creative event after they also sponsored the Artcrank Manchester exhibition I was recently involved in.  


The schedule consisted of a number of talks from the likes of Andrew Shoben from Greyworld (great interactive public design), Kate Moross (super trendy "jack of all trades" illustrator, film-maker and music designer), Ant and Ed from Colophon (a great little type foundry who I really admire for not taking shortcuts), Nat Hunter and Mark Shayler from The Great Recovery (founders of a really interesting project promoting design change to save the world) and music graphic designer Mark Farrow in conversation with Angus Montgomery of Design Week.

I found Nat and Mark's talk particularly interesting; they really had strong ideas on the practical uses of design that lasts, as well as products specifically designed with a view to creating items with a life cycle (easier disassembly, reuse and recycling) rather than a standard linear model in today's consumer-orientated world ("Buy this new shiny thing now! Throw away your old one that still works! Because you can!").  I do feel passionately that we as designers really do have a responsibility and a part to play in designing with these issues in mind.  As a book illustrator it can often be hard, but I have jumped at the chance to work with publishers who have pledged to plant a tree for each book sold and I'm always keen to work with and support environmentally friendly companies and causes.  Find out more about their cause at greatrecovery.org.uk



I really enjoyed Kate Moross's talk, out of all the guest speaking designers I feel that her work is in the most similar vein to mine as her projects often cross into illustration.  It was upbeat and interesting, touching on the idea of the longevity of careers and adapting to survive in the industry.  It did seem though that at some points that Kate was advocating the idea of working for free, as she had done in her early career, and I have to say that I really do disagree with that. 


I know that there have been people who's success has been based on that one client who saw that piece they did for free, and that in some cases it works for them and might really be worth it, but in the bigger picture I feel it's a problem.  The issue is that a lot of clients who can actually afford to pay designers know that they can get illustration work for free, so why would they ever pay a fair wage? If there will always be a stream of illustrators willing to work for "exposure" then the pool of fair-paying clients will reach some seriously low levels, and aren't those the clients we're all aiming for in the first place?  How can we ensure the longevity of a fair creative industry and our own careers if there are so many clients that don't need to pay you for your work? 

The creative industries are so over-saturated as it is, we need to work together to make sure we can all actually make a living out of our businesses and keep the very, very important creative sectors alive.  It's all too easy to feel like work in return for "exposure" or crowd-sourced competitions are your only options as a graduate but it's not always the case, try to focus on building your portfolio and style yourself through mock-commissions and personal projects until the right commission comes along - there are clients out there who will pay you, and it's only fair.  


I feel that this is a really important issue that the design conference could have discussed more, especially with the longevity theme, but if you have any thoughts do comment and we'll have a chat ourselves!




There was a great little Q&A session at the end of the talks, with all the guest speakers as well as Peter Saville and professor David Crow. This, along with the slot just before it where Angus Montgomery interviewed Mark Farrow, gave the structure of the conference a nice shake up. It felt a lot more natural to have the speakers discuss together what longevity in design means, and to answer some of the questions from the audience (I did ask about the work for free issue!). 


I think sometimes in a big conference like this it's hard for the speakers to break away from being reliant on showing the portfolio, rather than getting really in depth about how each section might apply to the theme and the issues around it, I think this would be the case with most people - still, it was great to see a breadth of work from each speaker, especially from those in design fields slightly different from my own.


The Manchester Town Hall itself is an absolutely gorgeous building, with huge arches, lavishly painted ceilings and spiral staircases almost everywhere. It was pretty hard for me to resist the temptation to sneak around the corridors feeling like I was on some sort of quest. There was a great atmosphere at the conference, and we all gorged ourselves on brews and biscuits in the mid-conference break. Unfortunately I couldn't stay long at the after-conference social at Kosmonaut, but I think that would have been a nice opportunity to have a chat with both the speakers and attendee designers - let me know how it went!


Design Manchester 13 was a great opportunity to re-connect with the local design community and discuss some really important issues that affects all of us in the industry. Thanks so much to all the organisers, supporters, sponsors and attendees! I'm looking forward to the events next year!