Why and how to create a Design Week

We're getting ready for Belfast Design Week happening this November (04-10).

Through my usual foraging for good podcasts, I came across The Urbanist by Monocle which produced an interesting series on "Should a city host a design week?The series raised an interesting point - why host a design week? In what way would a design week benefit a city? This inspired me to write the following blog - a little backstory about how our Design Week started and some of the cool things that have happened. I've written about some of the things we have learned along the way and why we are going for our third one in 2017.

It started with The Design Salon

The Design Salon is a collaborative design community project that a group of us set up in 2014 (which you can follow and join in here!) to bring together local designers and design enthusiasts to collaborate on design projects and to celebrate Northern Irish design.  One of the first things that we discussed was how to make Belfast a tourist destination for Design - not comparing ourselves with enormous cities like London or NY, but more manageably sized ones like Copenhagen (Denmark) and Portland (Oregon) that have become renowned for design.  

Belfast (and Northern Ireland) - of course - has a long history of linen, shipbuilding, rope-works and more, but there are also lots of exciting contemporary happenings in the local design community that aren't discussed, showcased or celebrated enough which is why we thought Belfast Design Week would be a great platform to do this.

Design Week highlights - a few of many!

Guest instagram posts during BDW16


These are some of my personal highlights of Belfast Design Week 2015-17

  • celebrating some of the awesome things happening locally eg. hearing stories from local companies that have had international success such as Sixteen South, design thinking for current affairs - we did a design thinking event on Immigration in 2016, cross-disciplinary sharing of work such as that during Design Science, showcasing the work of great local designer makers in 25 Pop Up and inviting international speakers such as Jenny Lee to join us and inspire local design entrepreneurs.
  • seeing the design community embrace and join in through Design Week itself, coming along to Design Salons or sharing projects on social media
  • A very specific point - I loved the guest Instagram feeds during #BDW16 - Peter Kernohan snapping spaces and places, Simon & Lorna sharing their work from Morocco (a big ask and they were very kind to do this!), David McMillan showcasing illustration indoors and outdoors & Emma Kenny sharing some of the most special places in the city.
  • through Design Week we have all met lovely new folks and expanded our design network and friend circles - this year, we've 4 new people joining us on the team - Illustrator Katherine McDonald, Product Designer April Luong, Service Designer Elizabeth Meehan & Illustrator & Graphic Designer Mel Carroll and they've already brought fantastic new ideas to the table. 
  • creating merchandise with Bill & Coo Paper Co. and illustrating for the BDW16 brand - as a designer, outside of the organising element, it was great to get involved in the designing and creating of stationery to complement events during the week.

Collaborative merchandise for BDW16

How to set up a Design Week (or similar event) in 5 simple steps

Design Science

Fiona Bennington from Leckey Design speaks at "Design Science"  during BDW16

Fashion Roundtable at BDW16

Fashion Roundtable at BDW16

Share 6 at Established Coffee Co.

Share 6 at BDW16

  • TEAM ... Find a group of likeminded individuals - likeminded in terms of wanting to set up a Design Week. Not likeminded in terms of ideas though - diversity is a good thing and will make your week vibrant! Make use of the great project management tools out there. We are big advocates of Slack.
  • PLAN ... Schedule a series of core events. These main events will be key to your week and everything will start to build naturally around this. A theme can also be helpful to help plan your week. Is there something of particular importance to your city - eg. sustainability, politics, society or growing the economy - and if so, could you use one of these topics to theme your week?
  • AUDIENCE ... Building an audience. The focus of setting up Design Weeks and similar events is people. Who is your core audience? Is it students, entrepreneurs, general public? Are they young or old? You don't necessarily have to be niche about this, but it helps to know who is likely to attend your events so that you can market it through the right channels. Social media is great and mostly free to use to push your event to relevant audiences.
  • COSTS ... Are there local firms or folks that would be willing to sponsor your event? Could you charge an entry fee to cover costs of your event? You'll find that if you ask, many people will be willing to help in some way. It may not necessarily be financial, but they may be willing to lend you a venue, volunteer their time or perhaps to speak at your events. Be transparent about how your week is run. 
  • RECORD ... This is an important part of Design Week or anything else - record things - take notes, get quotes, chat with attendees, speakers, photograph and video as much as you possibly can.  We are doing more year on year in this regard and the idea is not only to capture the event, but to create a knowledge archive. You'll also find that doing this could open up other design projects such as books, a video series of talks or public design projects.

So there you go - it's as simple as that! Or is it. To run a Design Week, you need to set aside time, you need patience, continued enthusiasm, willingness to listen to other ideas, interaction with 99% amazing people but some bad eggs as well - don't be put off by these! With a good team and good ideas, you can soooo make it happen, so do it!  

If you've any specific questions, email me at my Design Week address karishma@belfastdesignweek.com or post a comment below! Oh - plus it is so easy to set up a free email account to link to your domain! We use Zoho.

Annnnnnd join us this year from 04-10th November for the 3rd Belfast Design Week!