Friday night I went along to the very chilly Wild Building in Digbeth (Birmingham UK). Here a large and drafty warehouse with all original fixtures and fittings housed the Plus design festival. I was heading along to the Michael Wolf talk and energy permitting (and I knew it would) the end of show party and launch of Blink magazine.
The contrast between the large drafty environment and the slick (and by this mean tight, professional often beautiful) design stands was powerful. It was one of those moments when you feel like you could really be in any uber cool, urban, down-town art/design thing, anywhere in the world. Although I did have a few encounters with some Nathan Barley types.
Michael Wolf was also pretty cool - I'm not sure what I was expecting - but as I perched, rather recklessly on a bean bag with my legs buckled under a tiny coffee table in - did I mention it was drafty - in a cold spot, I didn't even notice the hour or so of the talk pass. For me it was reminiscent (the talk not the environment) of sitting at my uncle Charlie's (an artist) kitchen table listening to him and my dad (a graphic designer) disseminate pearls of wisdom about art and design and what's good, bad, the history and future of and all sorts of anecdotes.
However enough of that the format took the form of local designer Stef Lewandowski chairing a panel who directed questions to Michael (apparently he prefers this format as it requires less preparation).
Here are some points and thoughts that struck me:
- He spoke about the need for designers to be taught (I guess as students - so listen out HE ) about how to articulate the value of their contribution. 'What is your contribution worth to the client?' This is something I recall from my own distant freelancing days. Getting your head round the idea that a piece of design might be the making of a product success - so what is its value in that context?
- Recognising that new designers struggle sometimes to have the confidence to say how much they 'cost', he suggested role-play and the sort of experiential learning that I have advocated many times. He was suggested young designers (or old for that matter) role play amongst their colleagues and rehearse.
- He also spoke of being 'real' - this was a bit spooky for me after various 'authenticity' rants I've had in the last few weeks.
- Interestingly when I asked about how the UK were fairing in the context of increased competition from 'emerging economies' he spoke of the only real competition being with oneself - you're only as good as your last piece of work etc.
- When I pursued this with questioning this further and in the context of 10 years of governmental policy aiming to support and grow our creative industries he suggested that things were a little bleak. But that ultimately the issue was that companies (and by this I understood clients) were 'rather boring now' and the 'need for creativity to throughout a company'. This was an interesting perspective in the work that I am involved in as it sort of suggests a much more holistic approach is needed.
There was much much more however..
After the talk I loitered for the party. It was like being at an animated version of Facebook - I am always struck by how generally, people are much more attractive in the flesh - not just to look at but much more friendly somehow. The atmosphere was upbeat with free beers and cocktails and some delicious food from the patisserie in Kings heath (Chorizo sausage roll! I know I never even thought of it before but it really works). There was also a band of very cute/cool teenage girls who looked vaguely familiar I think they may live round my way. I really liked them and felt like there was something very cool and sort of constructive/creative and professional about their whole vibe - especially as they were pretty young and the place was packed full of the great and good of Birmingham's arts mafia. I missed the last few hours as sought refuge in the pub.