Caroline Archer, partner in UKType and co-organiser of the design-focused Plus Festival, looks back at this year’s event.
There’s not much to queue for on River Street, especially in November, but for four days this month cars were doubled parked, coaches arrived in convoy and expectant delegates lined the pavement outside the newly-opened Fazeley Studios.
They had travelled to Eastside from across Europe and the Middle East, from London and around the UK and even found their way from far-flung corners of Deritend - River Street sprang to life.
The reason for this influx was the Plus International Design Festival which had returned to Birmingham for its third year.
Started in 2006 to coincide with the 300th anniversary of John Baskerville, this annual Festival is a celebration of all things graphic and typographic.
The event serves as an emissary for the graphic industries and a champion for design education and has rapidly become a popular fixture on the annual design calendar.
Plus is a festival of many parts - exhibitions, talks, workshops, demonstrations, walking tours and competitions - and attracts an increasing band of visitors that not only includes students and educators but also new entrants to the profession alongside experienced designers.
This year the exhibitions were disparate and definitely unconventional.
Agencies and freelancers exhibited work that was unproven and untried – not commercial work they had produced for clients.
Two of my favourite pieces included Shanghai-based WOKmedia who showed Between Lines, an extraordinary three dimensional, flexible typographic ‘bookshelf’; whilst type designer Timothy Donaldson produced Plus non-Plus a vast canvas covered in letters so large they had to be formed by the whole body with the assistance of scaffolding.
Alongside established exhibitors such as Clusta, Fluid, FSNM and Stereographic was Smile, a trio of exciting young newcomers who are definitely ones to watch in the future.
The lecture series is always the jewel in the crown of the event and this year was no exception. A diverse, eclectic and international line-up of speakers - both known and unknown - held the audience over three days during which time they delivered a series of informative, inspiring and captivating talks.
Jonathan Barnbrook, a current name in the world of type design, commanded an audience that would have been the envy of the Guillemots and which roused as much passion.
However, the festival was not simply about watching and listening it was also about doing and there were plenty of workshops to keep the visitors entertained: book binding, stone carving, calligraphy, cartooning and the ever popular typographic walking tours ran to capacity as visitors explored the typographic complexity of Birmingham’s urban environment under the able guidance of local historian, Ben Waddington.
But what was the purpose of all this activity?
For me, exhibiting at Plus 2008 was not about acquiring clients or pecuniary gain: it had a more significant and richer purpose than simple commercialism.
Plus 2008 was about sharing ideas, communing with my compatriots, being inspired and pushing my knowledge of the subject forward - it was also about building a community.
To demonstrate this, it was edifying seeing a stone carver from Devon chatting with the creative director from a London agency who was talking to a young graduate from Birmingham City University who had engaged the attention of an eminent type designer.
This, in microcosm, was what Plus is about - the great and the good mixing with the great unknown in parity.
Plus brings together individuals from across the graphic and typographic world, gives them the opportunity to share ideas and commune in a creative, permissive and egalitarian atmosphere - that is the true value of the festival and one in which I am delighted to have partaken and proud that it happened in Birmingham.