Last week I had the fantastic opportunity to step out of the office and attend the Design Manchester Conference for a day of inspiration and creative networking.

Design Manchester is an annual festival dedicated to design and creativity that has become a cornerstone in Manchester’s cultural calendar. The theme this year was SMART, a theme that aimed to look at the resourceful, the nimble, and the canny who can lift or shape shift an idea and inspire us to move forwards (wherever that may be) and held a spotlight over a range of speakers from all over the world who spent the day walking us through their creative journey.

This year had a truly diverse line-up. There was everyone from bridge builders to creative directors to laser makers, who were all prepared to inspire. There were a series of talks, discussions, and various exhibitions on display within the Bridgewater Hall and plenty to explore, so you didn’t have to spend the day glued to your seat. But who would want to miss these incredible speakers?

The day started with a thought-provoking talk from Extinction Rebellion about the true extent of the problems we’re facing in terms of how liveable our planet will be and how close to extinction we really are if we don’t act now. They made me come away wanting to do more as a designer and an individual.

Next up was Hansje Van Halem, an acclaimed typographer from Amsterdam, who since 2017, has been the Head Designer of Lowlands, a world renowned music festival. Her work is showcased in a collection of museums, including Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (NL), Museum Meermanno / House of the Book (NL) and Museum für Gestaltung Zürich (CH).

She was encouraged to take control of her own creative work when she saw a typeface, that she created, on a book that she wasn’t commissioned to produce.

I loved seeing how versatile Hansje’s type design is, and how it has evolved through various stages of her career from book cover design to more large style installation pieces, and finally into moving brand design when she was appointed at Lowlands Festival.

Just before lunch, we had the pleasure of hearing from Daljit Singh, who is the Chief Design Officer at ANNA, where he has worked since its inception to distinguish its brand in the new world of challenger banks and admin apps.

He has had an incredible career as a Creative Director. Where he has designed global strategies for Audi, HSBC and Harvard Business Review, co-curated an exhibition at The Museum für Gestaltung Zürich V&A Museum, launched his own sausage brand, won a D&AD Black Pencil, and appeared in the FT’s “Top 50 Creative Minds” twice.

His talk was so humorous, it made me belly laugh at various points throughout. But what I found most insightful was how in a world of such amazing technological advancements everything has become very ’samey’. The ‘sans-serfication’ of brands such as Balmain and BT have dried out the branding world, logos used to be dynamic and distinctive and historically brands wanted to stand out with unique stylish scripts or hand drawn bespoke fonts. This has now become a thing of the past I am still unsure as to whether this is a positive or negative for the design industry but it does get me thinking.

This alongside another very important lesson I will make sure I take away with me was that “everyone needs a bit on the side” because he expressed just how important personal projects can be and that they in turn how they allow you to push the boundaries of your commercial work.

Next up was Harris Elliot, a creative director, curator and stylist based in London. Elliott is renowned for his international cultural style, exhibitions Return of the Rudeboy with Dean Chalkley and Punk in Translation. The Harris Elliott Studio DNA, is based on visceral responses to untold cultural narratives, executed in various mediums. Harris’s clients consist of the likes of Puma, Adidas and Thom Browne and he is also known for his work with Gorillaz, Kasabian, Erykah Badu and other artists.

He spoke us through his career and how he got to where he is today, it was interesting to see how his Jamaican heritage has influenced a lot of the work he has created, and I took an awful lot from the way he approaches projects and clients, he seems to tap into a deeper understanding of what the client or artist is trying to achieve. He spoke of his 3 golden rules; to work with people who inspire you, take risks, and to always be yourself.

The conference ended with design legend, and my personal idol, Paula Scher. She is one of the most acclaimed graphic designers in the world. A principal in the New York office of the international design consultancy Pentagram since 1991, she has designed a range of identity and branding systems, environmental graphics, packaging and publications for a wide range of clients that includes, Citibank, Microsoft, Bloomberg, Shake Shack, the Museum of Modern Art, Tiffany & Co, and the list goes on.

I didn’t think it would be possible to run through such an acclaimed career in just over an hour, yet somehow Paula managed it.

I found her Q&A, the most enlightening element of the day. She gave us some insight into her understanding of what makes a successful logo, and provided key tips on how to be an effective art director and how a lot of that lies in the art of persuasion and convincing clients to believe in your vision. A running theme throughout the conference seemed to be the importance and value that personal projects bring to your creative practice, how all the things you do outside of the day job influence your creative choices.

My day at the Design Manchester Conference was extremely valuable and thought provoking. I came away feeling an overwhelming sense of excitement and enthusiasm for my practice. I often feel as though I am particularly lucky I am so passionate about what I get to do for a job but days like these where I get to see the best of the best speak, continue to ignite the fire in my belly and spur me on to do more, and above all to always strive for greatness. I would highly recommend the conference, which has gone from strength to strength over the past few years, and I’m looking forward to seeing how they will top this year’s line-up in 2020!