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Roots and routes the key themes at Huddersfield's inaugural Design Conference


180 creative practitioners, students and enthusiasts gathered at Bates Mill in Huddersfield last week for the town's first Design Conference.



Roots and routes the key themes at Huddersfield's inaugural Design Conference

Organised by Wilson’s Republic, the inaugural event brought together a number of high profile speakers, many of whom grew up in the Huddersfield district. And those roots proved a popular theme throughout the packed day of seminars and workshops.

Headline guest James Sommerville stole the show with an honest insight into his journey from an ambitious young punk from Paddock, to the founder of world-renowned design agency Attik and now Vice President of Global Design for the Coca Cola Company, based in Atlanta.

Like the creator of Coca Cola John Pemberton, James shared how he found success almost by accident – in his case because he couldn’t get a job. This led him and a friend to set up by themselves in James’ grandmother’s loft. Like Coca Cola, Attik’s ambition was to do things that would capture attention and disrupt the market, and both are now iconic brands within their respective fields.

Other highlights included a two-part presentation by John Lee, who told his story from a Colne Valley High schoolboy to model maker for the soon-to-be-released Star Wars: The Last Jedi film. He spoke openly about the lack of careers guidance available as a youngster wanting to get into the seemingly unattainable world of special effects, but with passion, self-motivated research and a vast amount of hard work with another local friend, they went on to realise their childhood ambitions.

"The talent hub here is rich and people are recognising it."
Aidan Nolan



Huddersfield-based photographer Christopher Nunn shared a powerful account of his image-led documentation of the Donbass war in Ukraine – the country of his mother’s roots. Craig Oldham, from Barnsley, illustrated the often-overlooked use of creative expression from the opposite worlds of the professional football field and the front line of the miners’ strikes – again something close to Craig’s own roots. And Eve Warren from Robot Food stressed that a designer’s roots – and career progression – needn’t be London centric, especially given the movement going on in the North.

Commenting on the very different presentations, the Design Conference’s co-founder Darren Evans said: “I think the audience were particularly inspired by the honesty within all of the talks, which is perhaps another Yorkshire trait. James Sommerville encouraged delegates to consider potential ‘failures’ as simply stepping stones, for example, and urged people not to always worry about completely reinventing designs in favour of making refinements to preserve legacy and evolve a concept.

“There was also a great deal of talk about collaboration – commonplace in Huddersfield, as evidenced by the expansion of the Wilson’s Republic design network over the past two years,” continued fellow event co-founder Aidan Nolan. “The design community’s sharing of ideas and knowledge is ultimately what is driving the prolific reputation of the creative sector in this region. The talent hub here is rich and people are recognising it. And, the number of filled chairs in the room last week, and speakers’ eagerness to contribute, really evidences this.”

Numerous other workshops were delivered on the day by The Engine Room, Crowther Chartered Accountants, the Intellectual Property Office and Foilco.

The Design Conference looks set to return to Huddersfield in 2019.




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