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Recap: Design Manchester Conference


Recently, we attended the annual Design Manchester Conference at The Bridgewater Hall.

Having been to past conferences, we were looking forward to hearing from more world-renowned designers and creatives and getting inspired by work from speakers from different fields and disciplines.

Here are our highlights and takeaways from the day.

Extinction Rebellion

Love or hate the social disruption, Extinction Rebellion is disrupting the norm to get their message across. Hitting us with cold, hard facts the message the group delivered was a thought-provoking way to kick off the conference.

When confronted with irrefutable facts and figures on the decline of our planet, the lack of urgency from us towards actions to stop or reverse climate change is baffling. We all can do that little bit more, and the sense of community and dedication that XR are showcasing is inspiring.

Talking about design, it has a real grassroots aesthetic. There are no brand guidelines, no rules or regulations and this was proven by 3 young Bedouin boys who had a message on a piece of cardboard, instantly recognisable by the XR logo scribbled in the corner. Alongside the simple logo, the overall branding is also clean and simple.

Image on left credit:


Making use of muted colours and minimal type, it creates a propaganda / protest placard styling that helps get the message across simply and effectively – but also allows for customisation by the people that are using it.

Hansje Van Halem – Pattern Women

We also had the opportunity to hear from Hansje Van Halem. Hansje gathered recognition in the industry with her distinctive typography and geometric, almost psychedelic illustrations.

Hearing Hansje talk about her career was fascinating. From her early work as a book designer, to the art gallery she set up in her living room, to her personal project experimentations with type that led to so much of the work she’s best known for today.

Her work on the Lowlands Festival branding stood out for us. It was funny to hear that her normal hand drawn process (which originally took hours), could now be recreated in code in a fraction of the time. Bringing these static typographic illustrations and patterns to life with an animator for the festival promo and seeing the brand evolve in the four years shes been on the project was inspiring to see.


Image credit:


Neil Hubbard (Heatherwick Studio) – Architecture

As creatives, it’s really interesting and inspiring to see other forms of design and creativity. One thing we love is architecture.

Neil took us through several projects highlighting the original brief, any problems they faced as they went and how they creatively solved them.

For example, the “kissing roofs” for Coal Drops Yard in London. The project leads planned to link the two buildings while retaining as much of the original buildings heritage as possible and creating a focal point for people visiting.


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Their solution solved those issues in a beautiful and iconic way. It also created lots more retail space in the process. The team came up against lots of engineering challenges with this idea (curved roofs and windows aren’t the easiest!). But innovators within their team of builders and architects executed their vision.

Some other examples Neil took us through were Zeitz Mocha (an ex grain silo turned art museum in Cape Town) and 1000 Trees (a multi use complex in Shanghai incorporating as much nature as possible without looking strange next to lots of tall tower buildings).

Paula Scher

An absolute legend in the design community, we were really excited to hear from the “master conjurer of the instantly familiar” and she didn’t disappoint!

Her talk covered many of her most famous projects, with fascinating insight behind them. Including how when she finally felt that she had succeeded in her goal in giving the New York Public Theater a recognisable identity, she then immediately failed because the design was so popular that designers imitated it all over New York. As Paula put it “The city of New York ate my design”.

Though she had to go back to the drawing board, she enjoyed the challenge and has since reinvented the styling each year to give it a refresh, while still retaining the PT brand.


Image credit: Paula Scher

Our thoughts on Design Manchester…

The challenges that all the speakers have faced throughout their careers have made them who they are today. It’s also made them better designers as a result.

As creatives, it’s very easy to stick to what you know and do it well, but our strongest work is produced when we are pushed out of our comfort zones and get the opportunity to surprise ourselves.

The running theme throughout the conference was one of collaboration and working with new people and new tools, which can lead to great creative as a result.

We’re already looking forward to next year’s Design Manchester!


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