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Interview :: Beth Wilson and James Gilchrist of Graphic Design Festival Scotland 2015

posted by Anna Chayasatit October 6, 2015

One of our favourite festivals, ‘Graphic Design Festival Scotland’, is returning for its second year, bringing together creatives and studios from various disciplines to engage in discussion and debate about creativity, innovation, and design thinking. We had a nice chat with the GDFS organisers, Beth Wilson and James Gilchrist, and here’s an inside scoop on what got them interested in running a design festival and how organising an annual design event influences their graphic design career.


Please tell us a bit about your background. What first got you two interested in running a design festival?
While studying at Edinburgh College of Art, we followed various design events around the world online; After School Club, Open Set, Chaumont Design Graphique, Graphic Design Festival Breda and various Art Book Fairs but couldn’t find anything remotely similar in Scotland. We decided to organise a day of workshops and invited some of our favourite designers and design studios to participate. We outlined what we wanted to achieve – an engaging participation–based based event, which stood apart from the typical conference or fair style design events. All of the designers and studios we reached out to, said yes, they would love to be involved, and we quickly realised it was no longer a 1, 2 or 3 day event. We began approaching sponsors and went through all of the logical steps to organise an event, prepare a venue (The Whisky Bond), organise music (5 record labels and promoters from across Scotland), organise furniture and props (kindly built by Paul McGeachy at Urban Outfitters) and make the space more comfortable (borrow plants from Dobbies garden centre). We just wanted to create the perfect event which we would want to go to, putting ourselves in the position of the participants and attendees and consider what we think would be most beneficial and enjoyable to the participants.


How would you describe the design scene in Glasgow at the moment?
It’s slow and steady. Longlunch have brought an incredible list of designers from around the world to Glasgow to speak and in the last couple of years a number of graphic design exhibitions have popped up, including a retrospective of Wim Crouwel’s career in the Lighthouse, but there is certainly room for improvement.


There are quite a lot of design festivals happening every year. So what sets GDFS apart from other design festivals? Is there a particular reason why you host GDFS in October?
GDFS is set apart from other design festivals because almost the entire programme is participation-based. Participation is at the core of the event, which we believe makes it more engaging, more personal, more memorable and more valuable. We are also very careful about who we invite, and make sure that a breadth of different areas of communication design are represented.

Could you explain your curatorial methodology for the festival?
First and foremost we invite designers and studios whom we admire and respect and who’s work we rate highly. We then evaluate the type of work these people are doing and select a breadth of practices, which we think complement each other and each offer a different flavour.

What have been the most enjoyable and/or challenging experiences so far?
Enjoyable: definitely seeing people having a good time at GDFS, and hearing all of the positive feedback afterwards. Hearing that people were absolutely inspired at GDFS 2014 and seeing everybody absolutely engaged, exhausted, and loving life throughout the festival is very heart-warming. The response to our international Poster Competition has also been almost unbelievable. This year judged by ourselves, Adrian Shaughnessy, Tony Brook, Erich Brechbühl, we received 3,432 entries from 83 countries. Seeing so many people around the world participating in the event is inspiring and makes everything worthwhile. Receiving the physical posters is like Christmas, but geekier and better.

Challenging: The logistics. Trying to organise more than 50 organisations and individuals is extremely challenging. This year we also added on 2 entirely new exhibitions which exist independently outwith the programme too, so developing 2 independent identities and organising x2 entirely new sets of print assets alongside, promoting both of these has been absolutely exhausting.

Are there any other festivals that you look to for inspiration?
As we mentioned before. After School Club, Open Set, Chaumont Design Graphique and Graphic Design Festival Breda. GDFS have really set the standard for publicly engaging events – something we would love to develop in future.


How do you select your venue?
Last year GDFS was hosted at The Whisky Bond, which was a newly renovated 4 story creative complex on the outskirts of Glasgow City Centre. We wanted something large, industrial, and spacious where we would also have a large degree of control over the space. The Whisky Bond were also looking to lease their new studio spaces so it was a mutually beneficial exchange for us to host a graphic design festival and bring hundreds of designers to the space. This year we were looking for somewhere more central and slightly more polished. The Lighthouse, as Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture, was an obvious choice, and we are delighted and extremely grateful to the Lighthouse for hosting the event there this year. It will be spread over 5 floors, with workshop spaces, the conference room, hub with DJs, food and drinks and the top-floor viewing platform. We can’t wait.


This is a great opportunity for you to create public engagement through exhibition displays, panel discussions and workshops. How does this influence your graphic design career and vice versa?
The festival and our studio have an interesting relationship. While the festival is a great platform for us to reach people and build a public profile, the festival’s audience is predominantly made up of designers. Our audience as a studio, is not designers, and designers are not going to pay us to do design work, so they are essentially two completely separate entities. We would love to spend more time on studio work but GDFS is a time-hungry beast!

Can you tell us a bit about this year’s highlights? What would you most like people to experience at GDFS 2015?
It’s difficult to pick out highlights but we’re extremely excited to see the outcomes of all of the workshops; The Rodina, Studio Moross, Colophon Foundry, It’s Nice That, HelloMe, Workhorse Press, STV Creative, Recoat, and CodeBase! 

There is going to be public artwork, type design, conceptual installations, film, animation, collaborative music videos, strategic campaigns, and advertising, illustration and print design, the development of visual languages, and lots and lots of drinking, music, and good times!

This year is also our first talks conference & panel discussion which will be facilitated by Rob Alderson. Hearing all of the studios opinions, stances, and predictions on GD and the direction the practice is going in will be one you wont want to miss.

The programme is almost completely sold out and there are people travelling to participate from all over the world, which still blows our minds. Our launch night is going to be pretty special too, with more than 500 tickets gone! I think it might get pretty wild!

It’s going to be an incredible week!

Thank you very much Beth and James! Almost forgot to mention that Marcroy Smith, the Founder and Director of People of Print, will also be speaking and participating in their panel discussion! The festival almost sold out, so if you want to get involved, you’d better hurry!

Graphic Design Festival 2015 :: 19-25th October 2015
The Lighthouse
11 Mitchell Lane
Glasgow, G1 3NU


Anna Chayasatit

Anna Chayasatit

Author at People of Print
Anna Chayasatit

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