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Visiting the Design Manchester Festival Conference 2017

Posted by: Neil Roebuck on 24 November 2017

Earlier this month, Emma and I went to the Design Manchester Festival Conference in erm….Manchester. It was part of the ten or so days of Design Manchester Festival. The festival has over 50 different events happening but we could only manage to get to the conference. The conference was compered by Patrick Burgoyne, the editor of the Creative Review magazine. The conference itself was named ‘Design City Re-framed’ but if I’m honest, I couldn’t see any correlation between this title and the talks we saw. Bit strange really, but anyway, here’s a quick review of my favourite (and one not-so favourite) speakers:

Most abstract

Naresh Ramchandani (Partner at Pentagram)

Naresh is a copywriter at that there Pentagram, and I thought we’d be in for a talk on creating advertising for the masses along with some funny Mad Man style anecdotes. This was not the case at all. What we got was a lovely story (albeit verging on a mid-life crisis breakdown) about him writing an EP – music and lyrics to break himself away from his day to day job and be creative in a different way.

As it turned out the process of writing his EP also helped with the bereavement of the passing of his father and also pushed him out of his comfort zone when performing the EP’s 8 tracks to his friends and family. The talk was great and had some awesome little skits on-screen as introductions to each chapter. Naresh also wrote an essay about the process too (busy lad) which was available to buy at the event.

National Science and Media Museum

Most interesting

Louis Mikolay (Director at North)

The subject of Louis’ talk was really interesting – it covered the backstory of how his company North redesigned the Science Museum Group branding and two of the group’s main museums, the now-named National Science and Media Museum and the Science Museum. The whole talk was a response to the social media backlash that North went through when the project was launched. It was a clever way to describe their process and address particular comments made on social media.

There’s a couple of things I would say that would have made Louis’ talk so much better. I wish there was more of a preamble about the social media backlash, rather than him just launching straight into it and assuming that the audience had already read about it. And, his presentation had loads of really awkward silences and he was pretty flat the whole way through – this is a man who presents work to really high-end clients, I’d like to think he doesn’t present his work to them like that. That being said, it was genuinely interesting to see the creative process behind the project.


Jane Murison (BBC UX)

Jane’s talk was really well presented. It started with a brief overview of what the BBC UX team do and a little bit about where she started. She had some great little stories but ultimately she was, on behalf of all web developers and interface designers, apologising for ruining peoples lives! When it came down to it she was trying to encourage people to get away from their screens once in a while and live beyond digital.

Least interesting (sorry)

Lawrence Kitson (Co-op Digital)

Lawrence’s talk was about service design and how it’s an often overlooked area of digital design. He focused in on the Co-op’s Funeralcare service and how the Co-op digital team made the delicate process of organising a funeral easier (from both customer and staff points of view). It seemed that Lawrence was more interested in giving us the history of the Co-op and how it came about than actually describing how they streamlined the service’s designs. His slides were very rushed near the end and to be honest, it was a little difficult to tell what they’d actually done. Here’s to an improvement next time, as there is great potential.


Coolest slides

Tash Wilcocks (Hyper Island)

Tash had a great talk but sadly had to be rushed through near the end due to time constraints. Her presentation had some awesome illustrated (by her) slides. Lovely handwritten type affairs that I genuinely would have bought, if she’d had some prints on sale at the event. Again, her talk was about getting out there, turning your mobile off and doing something different. For her, it was re-discovering that she loved to draw and worked on refining and developing that skillset.


So after a full day of talks, Emma and I came away from the conference with the idea that we should probably take the advice of what the majority of the speakers were saying – get away from the screen more, do something different (but creative) and have fun doing it. Be comfortable being uncomfortable and be happy in doing something that you’re not sure how to do – because the fun is in the learning process.

Our creative studio design team are experts in re-inventing or launching brands.

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