Cardiff Design Festival

Cardiff Design Festival: Gareth Strange of John & Jane speaks at this year’s festival. Source: @cdfdesignfest (via Instagram)

By Natalie Graham

Last weekend the city hosted the Cardiff Design Festival. The festival returned to Cardiff after a 6 year hiatus having successfully run for nearly a decade between 2005-2013, with a brand new team of organisers, aiming to showcase up and coming welsh design talent and  celebrate how the creative industries have continued to evolve.

According to Festival organisers the event has returned bigger than ever, with 2019 witnessing an increasingly diverse design community pushing the boundaries between traditional and contemporary design. Organisers stated “we want to share the great work produced in this city and beyond to help inspire our creative community”. The festival aspires to challenge the definition of design itself, drawing on technology, social change and fashion.

Since Cardiff’s 2008 bid for European Capital of Culture; unfortunately halted in its tracks by the global recession, culture within Cardiff has become a force to be reckoned with. The design festival notably having gone from strength to strength. Cardiff Design represents Cardiff’s thriving creative hub, generating the ideal environment to admire design projects and inspire future ones. The event runs on an open invitation policy in which allows local designers and the creative community to submit ideas for events over the course of the weekend. A key selling point is the festivals open, inclusive and welcoming attitude towards local designers. Collaboration between designers and attendees is deeply encouraged through the organised exhibitions, workshops and many other events the festival has to offer.

Running across the entirety of the weekend, there are a diverse and unique collection of events attendees and designers can become immersed in.

Some of the exhibitions include:

FASHION:MARKS, EXHIBITION– this exhibition is for anyone with a keen eye or interest for fashion without limits. It explores the idea of creative forms through the ‘creative manipulation’ of different sizes and shapes of material to create a visual silhouette.

BODY OF ART TATTOO ART EXHIBITION– A collection of tattoo inspired artwork by a diverse selection of artists.

WTF IS MOTION DESIGN/TALK– This talk explores how motion design has become increasingly prevalent in today’s digital world. Brands use motion design to communicate ideas faster and capture our increasingly diminishing attention span

CARDIFF ANIMATION NIGHTS-Showcasing award winning independent short animations from around the world.

ART EXHIBITIONS– A selection of local artists have formulated exhibitions located in various locations across Cardiff, including Sophie Potter who celebrates vintage packaging and typography with a botanical twist.

We spoke to Mared Jones and Emily Merchant, part of the team reviving the design festival. Mared worked on social media and bilingual copy writing, whilst Emily is a graphic designer, illustrator and fellow creative. A common theme has appeared when asked to summarise the event to potential attendees or designers. Both women emphasised the sheer diversity of Cardiff’s creative scene. Emily believes that even though it is a design based festival “it’s not exclusive to those only in the industry, anyone can go along to a talk, exhibition, workshop or drop in session to pick up a new skill. There’s something for everyone”.

Mared summarised the Cardiff design festival as a “Celebration of all things design in Cardiff. Held over four days in cool venues, attendees have the chance to visit exhibitions, attend workshops, browse market places and network with designers and design lovers. It is for anyone and everyone who identifies as creative”.

The design festival offers so much to both designers and non-designers alike. Whilst some find inspiration, others glance at exhibits in awe. For the organisers, creatives and attendees the festival means Cardiff’s cultural hub is increasingly getting the attention it deserves. From a designers perspective for Emily, who has only recently moved back to Cardiff at the start of the year, the festival has given her an opportunity to immerse herself back in to Cardiff’s cultural scene. Emily felt she could be more in tune with the community around her, the festival provided an opportunity to get involved in cross collaboration from every design sector in Cardiff. “What I didn’t expect as a result of getting involved however was how much I would get in return. Community, friendship, family. I couldn’t rate the experience highly enough”.

Although Mared is “less of a designer and more a doodler”, her experience of the festival was equally as complimentary as Emily’s, giving an insight in what the design festival has to offer to designers and non-designers alike. “I adored every second of the festival. For aspiring or current designers there is plenty of inspiration, chances to learn and networking opportunities. Non Designers can definitely find something fun in the market places and interactive workshops. I genuinely loved seeing Cardiff’s wonderful creative people coming together to celebrate everything our creative scene has to offer and give it the recognition it absolutely deserves”.

Having a design festival as successful as Cardiff’s on your doorstep, is an opportunity too hard to turn down. It provides an easy way of immersing yourself in Cardiff’s community, something students don’t always have the opportunity to do. Emily sums up perfectly the benefits of attending; “you get to engage with and explore the local creative community more intensely. As a designer it’s fantastic for expanding your knowledge, making new connections, meeting the peoples who work you’ve been following online forever, inviting the possibility for collaborations across sectors and learning new skills. You meet so many people at each event, it’s made me feel incredibly proud to be a part of such a warm welcoming and eclectic community”.    

When asked if the festival will be returning annually, Mared stated that “If the demand and support is there then we’d love to make it an annual thing”. If this does become the case then look out for advertisement to 2020’s design festival, especially if you have a keen interest for design, diverse and unique artwork or need something to do on a typically wet autumnal Cardiff weekend.


Martin Parr exhibition- welsh photography, exploresdifferent aspects of welsh life and culture- from food, festivals, men’s clubs to coal mining and the seaside   – national museum October 6th– may 4th 2020

Bernd and Hilla Becher: Industrial Visions October 6th– march 1st 2020- photography documenting industrial structures across Europe and the USA. This exhibition presents some of Bechers well known typologies and individual photography. National museum

Drawing natural forms.  Saturday October 26th 11:00- 14:00 pm. Global gardens, flaxland allotment Cardiff. A relaxed and fun workshop on drawing from nature. Study natural forms, using simple drawing techniques to explore explore line, tone, form and composition

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