Manchester to play host to its first design symposium


Next month Manchester will host its first design symposium, organised by regional advisory and promotional body Design Initiative and funded by the Design Council and Manchester City Council.

The symposium, which is being held at Manchester Metropolitan University on 23 March, will feature talks and panel discussions from Manchester-based speakers such as illustrator Si Scott and Music designer Craig Oldham, and those from further afield, including representatives from Dutch consultancy Studio Dumbar. Build creative director Michael Place was due to speak, but has since withdrawn because of scheduling conflicts.

Symposium organisers have been working with Design Initiative’s Liverpool office and other organisers of the Liverpool Design Symposium, which rebranded last year as Design Symposium North to encompass events in both cities (DW 29 September 2010).

Evans says, ’There’s a strong design community around Manchester. The designers that work together create their own networks, but one of the aims of the symposium is to help designers build better connections in the area and nationally.’

Oldham says, ’Manchester used to house the “token” lecture now and then as an attempt to broaden the scope but there’s a ravenous consumption in Manchester for all things creative and this will feed that. I think it’s a big part of the jigsaw in making Manchester seen as the uniquely creative city that it is.’

To learn from these existing networks, and to create a responsive event, rather than dictate what the design community needs from the top down, Design Initiative invited consultancies such as Music and Eskimo Creative, non-profit design events organisation Independent Northern Creative and members of Manchester Metropolitan University’s Faculty of Design to input into a steering group for the event.

The result was the chosen theme of ’The value of design’, which aims to offer attendees more than just a browse through the portfolios of the speakers and to generate a larger discussion about issues in the industry, says Evans.

But self-congratulatory evangelising about just how important designers are is not what should be expected from the event. Illustrator Si Scott is vehemently against speakers who preach of design’s ’life-changing effect’ and Studio Dumbar was invited to appear because of its research into return on investment.

Evans says, ’The consultancy has done extensive research into what good design adds financially to a company’s turnover.’

Scott’s talk will wrestle with the conflicting ideas that although design touches almost every part of our lives, it is also a means of bridging the gap between wanting something and making it desirable. He says, ’We’re often sucked into lots of things that aren’t worth what you pay for them. How much are we lied to with visual propaganda? Do designers play a role in that?’

The event will also aim to evaluate design’s reach. Oldham says, ’I think design, now more than ever, is the creation and application of ideas, whether it’s a cordless kettle, way-finding, the perception of a country, a manifesto for change, or the setting up of an organisation.’

The idea of value will also be reflected in the event’s digital and print presence (pictured), designed by Manchester-based Eskimo Creative. The website, which is due to launch on 14 February, will feature photography of the empty studios of the speakers, but also Manchester-based groups such as Love, The Neighbourhood and Magnetic North.

Eskimo Creative creative managing director Mark Janson says, ’The image of the empty studios are a kind of pledge, saying we’re committing time and staff to the events.’

Manchester Design Symposium


  • Chairman: Professor David Crow, acting dean of Manchester Metropolitan University’s Faculty of Design
  • Music
  • Studio Dumbar
  • Si Scott


  • Design Council
  • Manchester City Council
  • Manchester Metropolitan University
  • Independent Northern Creative

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