19th October 2021 |
Glug Profile: Birmingham Design Festival

Hey guys! You've been busy this past couple of weeks. Care to share what you've been up to?

Luke: Sure – along with planning the forthcoming Birmingham Design Festival we also had the (sold-out) re-launch of Glug Birmingham which was lots of fun – plus supporting some other events happening in the city (GFSmiths screening of RAMS and BCU Type Talks with Shotopop)

The re-launch was a success too! Anyway, let’s start easy, shall we? For those Gluggers who’ve never heard of you, who are you and what do you do?

Dan: I’m Dan Alcorn, I’m a designer working for a digital agency called Substrakt in Birmingham – we work predominantly in the arts and culture sector making digital products for theaters, museums, art galleries etc. Over the past few years I’ve been putting on events aimed at people working in the creative industry in Birmingham, which has culminated in setting up Birmingham Design Festival with Luke and taking on Glug Birmingham.

Luke: I'm Luke Tonge, a freelance designer originally from Nottinghamshire but now very much at home in Birmingham. I juggle part-time lecturing at BCU, helping Dan run the Birmingham Design Festival (and now Glug) and running my own freelance design practise – specialising in branding and editorial work. If I'm known for anything it's probably the indie magazines I've been fortunate to design over the last 10 years, including Boat Mag, The Recorder for Monotype, and more recently 99% Lifestyle.


How did you end up doing what you’re doing now, then?

Luke: A decade in big advertising/marketing agencies taught me that I care much more about people than profit, and that my skills are far better used helping others become better designers than helping shift products. That said, I still very much consider myself a designer first and foremost. Events and teaching have come more recently, but is now a huge (& rewarding) part of what I spend my time doing.

Dan: I’ve spent much of my career following things that really interest me outside of design, in hope that I can mix work and play to get effect. I worked for Aston Villa Football Club for several years and whilst I was there began putting on events in my spare time. It’s something I’ve grown more confident in doing and enjoy that side of the industry, I saw joining Substrakt as an extension of that passion and now I get to see through the looking glass at lots of great arts organisations and a lot of the work I do in my job and spare time feeds into each other.

And how did you get to start working closely together?

Dan: I met Luke a few years ago at Badego, a creative meet up based in Birmingham. We’d chatted at various events over the years and were agency neighbours when Luke was in the Jewellery Quarter. I’d been keen on putting together a large scale, multi-faceted event for the past few years and after seeing the appetite for creative events grow in Birmingham I decided it was time to put on a design festival, something the city had lacked for several years.

Due to his connections and outstanding work, Luke was the first person I contacted to see if he would help make it a reality. We had a coffee and I explained my plans for the festival and we quickly started extrapolating and refining and building a team we felt confident would help achieve the ambitious goal for the first festival.

What's the best memory you have of your collaboration so far?

Luke: Probably standing on stage in the Royal Conservatoire 500 seater Bradshaw Hall auditorium, looking out over a packed house of friends and like-minds, introducing one of my design heroes Aaron Draplin to headline/close-out our first BDF in signature style. Professionally that felt pretty special and almost too-good-to-be-true.

Dan: For mine I’d go back to the first day of the festival. The opening talk at 10am on a Thursday, with no idea how successful the event is going to be and looking out at a packed room of people waiting to be inspired. From that point I knew we were going to have a successful few days.


You've been part of the Birmingham design scene for a while now, through your design work, lectures as well as through Badego and now BDF... what's so good about Brum anyway?

Luke: The scene here is really changing, Brum from a creative point of view has always been talented but perhaps not always so open as it feels now – it’s a welcoming and friendly place full of opportunity and potential. It's big enough to have some amazing facilities, agencies and events, but small enough that you can still feel like you're making an impact and difference.

Dan: And because of that changing scene its a place you feel like you can make a difference. There’s a lot of folks here who are really desperate to see the city succeed. It’s a place where you can try new things and the community is very supportive.

And… If you were given the opportunity to move anywhere without having to apply for any visa what-so-ever and we’d sort the packing for you — where would you go?

Luke: Tough call! My favourite city is Detroit, but I don't think I'd choose to live there over Brum, and my fave place to spend time is in the UK – Falmouth – where I studied, so I'd always be happy to take a trip down there.

Dan: I would love to spend more time in Boston. I was amazed by MIT when I visited there and would be keen to visit more regularly.

As a collaborative powerhouse and creatives extraordinaire, what’s the best advice you can give to emerging designers? Can be super inspirational or a photoshop trick, we’ll accept anything!

Dan: Get yourself out there. Not in terms of work, everybody can share their work on the internet but whilst that’s important, personal connections are much more valuable. Real life engagements, side projects and developing meaningful relationships can lead your life and career in different directions that you might not have thought possible. Going to events and meeting people have been so key to everything I do to the point where the work becomes secondary.

Luke: Be kind. Talent will only take you so far, and it's important to be comfortable with the person you see in the mirror. The designers who've been the biggest influence on me haven't necessarily been the most talented – they've been the most patient, generous and encouraging. I have this one line from a tweet screen grabbed as my desktop background: 'be the person you needed when you were a kid' and I think about that a lot, especially when dealing with students & juniors.


You probably encounter so much great work so this one is going to be tricky: give us a link shout-out to 5 pieces of inspirational, or just plainly awesome, work that you’ve stumbled upon recently… Or… just 5 people!

Luke: Hard to narrow it down to just five!

Nicole Phillips, aka Typograph.her, is one badass talented and consistently generous kiwi.

Eye is my all-time favourite publication, and Simon & John who run it are gentlemen of the highest order, which makes me love it even more.

I'm also a huge fan of Unit Editions and the publishing integrity of Adrian and Tony who are to blame for my sagging bookshelves.

Work-wise I'm constantly blown away by the output of Ryan and Don Clark, aka Invisible Creature – they continually raise the bar and produce visually stunning work...and though we couldn't make it work for BDF this year I think we'll get them over at some point!  Last but not least I'm going to pick Shotopop, because Casper, Carin and co are so gosh-darn lovely and annoyingly talented – Casper is one of those guys you wish you could just hang out with and some of his magic creative sparkle would transfer onto you.

I could easily give you 500 more...

Don't worry, we've got you: you can check out what makes Dan and Luke tick by following them on Twitter and of course, don't forget to check out this year's line-up at BDF.

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