Last week saw nearly 200 creative practitioners, students and design enthusiasts flocking to Bates Mill for Huddersfield’s first ever Design Conference, and we were delighted to be involved with spreading the word about the inaugural event.
Coordinated by Darren Evans and Aidan Nolan, founders of the town’s creative network Wilson’s Republic, the conference brought a number of industry renowned speakers together to talk about their routes into design. With many of these having grown up in the area, the theme of ‘roots’ fittingly ran throughout the presentations.
Our day started as all good days should – with a large cup of coffee! We then joined the rest of the attendees and were given a warm welcome by Darren and Aidan, who ran through the programme for the day and introduced the impressive line-up of guest speakers. There was a real buzz of anticipation from the very start and the excitement only grew as the high-profile names took to the stage.
First up was John Lee, who told the story of his journey from Colne Valley High schoolboy to esteemed prop and model maker, creating special effects for such blockbusters as the upcoming Star Wars: The Last Jedi.
Tom Foley, creative director of typeface creator Dalton Maag was next. Exploring the history of typographic forms – from 4,000 years ago up to the present day – his talk focused on how letter forms have evolved over time to become what they are now, providing fascinating insight into the painstaking attention to detail that designing a new font entails.
Two seminars then followed, with The Engine Room’s MD Lesley Gulliver covering ‘The business of design’ and Crowther Chartered Accountants exploring ‘Accounting for creatives’, whilst Tom Foley led a workshop in logo refinement.
After breaking for lunch, the talks resumed with Eve Warren from Robot Food stressing that design no longer revolves around London and giving examples of the inspiring movement happening in the North. Photographer Christopher Nunn then took to the stage to share his powerful account of his image-led documentation of the Donbass war in Ukraine – the country of his mother’s roots – before the final seminars of the day were held. John Lee’s focused on ‘A life in design…’ whilst a workshop entitled ‘Know your (copy)rights’ was led by the Intellectual Property Office.
The penultimate speaker was perhaps the most eagerly awaited and with good reason – having James Sommerville addressing a packed-out warehouse in his hometown, via video-link from Atlanta, was really something special. The designer – who hails from Paddock – shared his story of setting up world-renowned design agency Attik in his grandma’s loft and regaled the audience with tales from his current position as vice president of global design for Coca Cola.
Closing the day in his signature straight-talking style was Craig Oldham, who explored often-overlooked creative expression from the contrasting worlds of the football field and miners’ strikes. And perhaps most memorably –in fitting with everyone’s talks from the day – he emphasised that you can be proud of your roots and still strive to grow.
‘Inspiring’ is an overused word, but last week’s event definitely warrants it. Witnessing the talent that has come out of our town – not to mention the number of students and young designers in attendance who will undoubtedly form the next generation – truly did shine a light on the creative potential Huddersfield has to offer.
Maybe now others will start taking note…