Design: serious fun

Published —
10.10.17
Writer —

WORKING on the design for the International Business Festival has been fun.

And I hope that shines through when people experience the Festival floor next June, because fun is something we were determined to introduce when we were appointed design partners.

I’ve been involved in each of the Festivals so far – first as a speaker, then hosting a debate – and while they’ve been great events, as designers we always spot room for improvement.

The Festival has felt quite corporate in the past. But the creative director Jude Kelly is intent on giving it a more celebratory feel.

Sure, plenty of serious stuff goes on – with people meeting to talk contracts and money – but business needn’t be and shouldn’t be dour. If you’re enjoying what you’re doing, you are usually better at it.

Flags and paper lanterns silhouetted at a festival
READ: 'Our Glastonbury for business' - Jude Kelly

And when people have travelled from all over the world, many will want an element of entertainment and amusement.

Ultimately big exhibition halls can tend to look the same. But you can’t just put an event in a big box and say ‘there you go’. People expect something different, especially when they come to an interesting city, in a country that’s perhaps seen as the premier design location in the world.

Design plays a massive part of every event now, whether it’s Glastonbury Festival or the Bowie Exhibition at the V&A.

If someone created an amusement park 15 years ago it would have been a case of putting rides onto black tarmac. You wouldn’t have thought about the spaces in between, or produced a soundtrack. We spent four years on Dreamland in Margate, with the aim of creating a visual and sensual delight.

The Hemingway Design-led Dreamland, in Margate

We wanted it to feel cheeky, subversive, risqué or even edgy. And that doesn’t just happen with the colour scheme or signage; everything from the merchandise to the staff uniforms play a part. People now expect so much more.

The Business Festival is a very different event but similar principles apply.

Jude has made clear she wants an event that stimulates people and maybe even makes them baulk a bit, and think ‘that’s a bit unusual’.

If the Festival is going to achieve its ambition of succeeding on a world scale, then it’s going to have to be known for something more than just doing the usual stuff.

In previous years the design has felt a bit passive and people might have come along for something specific and then left. What design can do is create an environment where people linger. They’ll move round the event and take in all the businesses that are showcasing their products and services.

So in our work – led by my son, Jack – we’ve used the new, more vibrant, Festival colour scheme to influence the layout and signage. We want the printed matter to be a bit more playful, and we’re talking to a catering team about creating an interesting food and drink offering.

Wayne and Jack Hemingway

This isn’t a big budget, money-no-object event, so we have to be resourceful. Where so many events are overspec’d, with high-end glossy fixtures, ours is more a “ theatre and set building” approach that we hope will strike visitors as a bit different.

We’ve tried to introduce some of the spirit of Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle district, which has rightly gained attention for its creativity and originality, by bringing in materials that feel quite temporary and can go on to have a sustainable second use.

Putting that into the Festival narrative should encourage people to explore Liverpool a bit more. And it’s appropriate really because most businesses – even the big multinationals – start organically in places like the Baltic.

View of people eating at Liverpool's Baltic Market
Liverpool's Baltic Market

Disruption is an overused term but it’s true that – love them or loathe them – companies like Uber, Amazon and even Poundland, have become a massive success by working in a non-traditional way.

Liverpool does things a little bit differently and is starting to be recognised for that. I have a long history with the city, from going out there as a teenager to working on events in recent years.

Jack and I were in Anfield not long ago, working on a new vision for the neighbourhood. He’s also done a lot around the Albert Dock, with last year’s Vintage festival, and turning the Tate into a silent disco as part of its This is Sculpture series back in 2009.

His influence will bring some of that levity to next year’s Business Festival. We can’t make it too lightweight, and the spaces we create still have to be highly functional, but things should be informal to reflect the times. After all, these days so many people work for SMEs, often with fewer than 10 staff, that they don’t feel at home in a corporate environment.

Business should be serious fun in my view. Employing people, paying wages and growing the company is important stuff but we’ve always managed to have fun and keep things informal while working very hard.

Our first business Red or Dead was a riot with 300 staff. Most of them didn’t have the qualifications or experience you might expect but we still managed to open 25 shops around the world and build a profitable business with a turnover of £25m without borrowings or investors.

So let’s enjoy ourselves next June. It is a festival after all.

Wayne Hemingway is co-founder of Hemingway Design, which specialises in branding, events, housing and fashion. The company is design partner for the 2018 International Business Festival.

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Produced by the 2018 International Business Festival, in partnership with Wordscapes.