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Design Manchester group

In conversation with Design Manchester: partnerships & DM16

10th August, 2016

“Design thinking is the key to making the best of the emerging digital world”

As an official supporter of DM 16, we’re excited to see that this year’s festival is going to be bigger and better than ever. In the months running up to DM 16 (12-23rd October), we’ll be sharing a series of articles sharing the story behind the festival.

In our first piece the Design Manchester team discussed the impact of Brexit on the creative industries and the steps that need to be taken to ensure we continue to innovate and grow.

In the second part of our series, we chat to them about the importance of collaboration and partnerships for Design Manchester and this year’s festival.


It makes sense that a festival committed to celebrating creativity, collaboration and inclusivity should join forces with a company which has a long history of embracing all of these things.

From the beginning Design Manchester has put community at the heart of its activities. Now The Co-op, a firm founded on the principles of membership for all and the ‘divi’ – a share of the profits – is to be the headline sponsor of this year’s Design Manchester festival.

“The Co-op being on board is a great thing because it’s a real Manchester brand,” says Kasper de Graaf, chief executive of Images&Co and partnerships director of Design Manchester.

“It’s also an organisation which is being reinvented on the premise that design thinking is the key to making the best of the emerging digital world. That is what we’re about, it’s what The Co-op is about. Let’s face it, it’s what Google and Facebook are about. Many successful industries realise they need design thinking at the heart of their strategy.”

Launched in 2013 with the support of Manchester School of Art (part of Manchester Metropolitan University), Design Manchester has gone from strength to strength. This year’s festival, which takes place October 12-23, promises to be the best yet with a slew of city-wide exhibitions, films, workshops, talks, performances, coding clubs and debates. But none of it would be possible without the backing of organisations like MMU and The Co-op.

Kasper says: “At the moment we’ve got key public funders and a significant commercial sponsorship from The Co-op. But there is scope for us to develop partnerships much more broadly and we want to be involved with people who feel the character of the city is important to them.”

That ethos is at the core of Design Manchester and a large part of the role of the newly appointed DM16 advisory board has been to ensure that the festival is opened up to everyone using the right partnerships across the city and beyond. This year’s advisory board comprises business leaders from the creative industries and is chaired by mN’s Lou Cordwell.

Lou says “This year’s festival is bigger and broader than ever and I’m delighted to be supporting the DM vision at this exciting time. With so many new collaborations, the impact of DM16 is likely to extend well beyond the festival itself; creating opportunities across the city and the wider Northern neighbourhood."

Malcolm Garrett, designer and co-founder of the festival as well as creative director at Images&Co, explains that engaging local people and businesses is part of a long-term goal.

“It’s a clear objective and that’s why Design Manchester from the outset has been totally inclusive,” he tells us. “It’s for everybody who feels they have a voice and wants to express being part of a bigger community. So we’re open to partner activity as well as partner events if that activity is for the overall promotion of the creative industries and by extension the UK economy.

“But how do we do that? By  continuing to say it and by welcoming people. We’re on a growth path, we’re in year four and we’ve got The Co-op on board which is great because that immediately makes a statement. We have similar aims to The Co-op; The Co-op is a community organisation, it wants to supply services and goods to the community and have the community be involved in how those services are provided and share in the profits. So it’s a really fantastic partnership and that puts us on a slightly different plane to what we already had.”

Manchester School of Art has been a key component of Design Manchester from the start. Last year Manchester City Council came on board and are providing financial support again in 2016. The Arts Council has also given support, but that’s not all.

“We’ve been making connections internationally,” Malcolm says. “So we’ve been talking to people in Norway, Denmark, Holland, Ireland,  and South Africa, to make those connections and let the world know Manchester as a platform, is a major player internationally.

“We’re only four years in but this year it feels like it’s a great year and in some ways  it feels like year one because so many things are beginning to pull together, we’ve got a good solid base from which to work. My job now is to work with my partners to put on a great festival but my role within that group of people is to continue to make those connections, to make sure the speakers we bring in internationally from Los Angeles or New York are available to speak to students here and plug directly into the educational future, as well as standing up publicly and having that voice in the broader city.”

And what does Malcolm think The Co-op will add to this year’s festival, aside from heavy-hitting brand backing and monetary help?

He concludes: “In the first instance, they bring practical engagement with what we’re doing but they also bring something much more important; a new level of potential and credibility. We do mean business, there’s something important here...they bring something that’s beyond words.”

All very exciting. Head to the Co-op Digital blog for more on their partnership with Design Manchester and stand by for more news around this year’s line-up...