Graphic Design Festival Breda 2014

This will be appearing on the Graphic Design Festival Breda website at some point soon…

Graphic Design Festival Breda 2014


Once every two years, for the past six years, I’ve made the journey over to Breda to be entertained, provoked, empowered and made new friends, met up with old ones and had a wonderful time. Breda is the perfect location for this most idiosyncratic of all design festivals, large enough to get moderately and joyously lost in (I take great pride in having got lost in almost every Dutch town from Groningen to Eindhoven, via Leiden and Den Haag) to being small enough to familiarise and remember favourite haunts for repeat visits and orientate around regular festival sites. Breda for me, is GDFB.

Festivals, no matter what the celebration, have a bewitching presence on the locale, a presence that is most keenly felt by those who take part. That feeling of ‘festival head’ you get when all normal life twists and everyone in town becomes a friend, a fellow festival goer, and you begin to think that everyone and everything is part of the show, is something that happens to me every time I visit GDFB. This is surely the sign of success for a festival; establishing a brief suspension of reality in the ordinary everyday world.

This suspension of reality allows for a clearer picture of current affairs in the design world. The idiosyncrasy of GDFB, in my valuation, is the highest compliment that can be paid (especially in the world of design festivals where matters are often run with the bureaucratic zeal, sense of entitlement and derision to the arts that they may as well steamroll designers in the street) comes in no small part from the tight curation and dedication of Dennis Elbers and the family of staff that make the programme happen.


There is no finer example of this idiosyncrasy and tangent thinking at work than the three day Retweet lecture series which I was proud to be a part of this year. Under the title of Retweet in homage to our increasing appetite for sharing summarised information via social media, the programme brought together the eclectic and eccentric, the bombastic and fantastic in one long and glorious knockout procession of obsession and intrigue. One of the greatest elements for me was that I don’t think I ever heard the words ‘graphic design’ uttered once during the entire three days. This was a line up less concerned with the mores of graphic design more the importance of expanding the field of visual design through scientific research, technology, religion and politics. Given the task of using Twitter to forward on and share the bombardment of information thrown from the stage, I found myself completely absorbed (as did the rest of the audience) in subjects ranging from ‘how to brand terror’ to tax evasion, fungi farming and punk. The audience was enthralled, marveling at the dedication and passion at which the speakers attacked their subjects, often leaving the sessions reeling at the access we’d been given to the guests level of research and vision, our world view changed.

One of my favourite parts of the day were the post lecture lunches, where speakers, visibly relaxed after their performance, would gather round the table and reveal even more about their research, more often than not finding common ground with their fellow guests and audience. Food was a major factor in the social life of the festival with Ravanello Pop-Up food store, located in the Stadsgalerij Breda, becoming a focal hub of the event. The building, which also contained a performance space and a gallery became the type of place that made you wish it was there all year round – part of the festival legacy and impact that events like this have on the town; they offer an alternative view of what can be done with imagination and vision.


It was at Stadsgalerij that most of my meetings with designers and guests happened. Meeting up with international collaborators from the U.S. Mike Perry and Steve Powers, brought home the international reach of this burgeoning festival, whilst witnessing them in action, painting murals in the local community, showed the impact of GDFB has as a lasting influence in the area long after we’ve all packed up and gone home. And I, for one, can’t wait to be back next time. Long live this eclectic, eccentric, friendly and intelligent festival, Breda owes you a gratitude for putting guests on their map and then getting them lost in your charms.