Hey, hows things?
Hello! Thing’s are not too bad, I’ve been slowly trying to get back into the world, going to events, meeting up with friends etc. Been keeping busy too doing all sorts recently, but also been finding some time to relax which has been great.
For those that do not know tell us about yourself!
I’m Neeraj Kainth I’m a Graphic Designer working for the artist Imbue. I represent the Birmingham chapter of Fuse, which is a platform that elevates the creative work of people of colour. I’m part of the Birmingham Design team which is a creative network that supports the creative scene in the West Midlands, and organises events and initiatives such as Birmingham Design Festival, Gather and Ladies, Wine & Design. I also graduated from BCU last year where I studied Graphic Communication.
Give us a couple of fun facts about yourself!
Ooft hard question (I’m pretty boring). I was born in Punjab, India but I’ve pretty much lived in the UK my whole life. I like The Strokes, some might say a bit too much. Leading on from that I guess like many people I listen to a lot of music. I had listened to something like 155k minutes of music last year, which I think is around 3.5 months! I also own a Mandalorian Helmet :)
Talk to us about being a part of Birmingham Design.
So Birmingham Design is a platform that exists to help support the creative community here in the West Midlands. That’s achieved in various ways through job listings, sharing work, putting on events and various other projects. I’ve been part of the team for just over a year now, Luke Tonge who is one of the directors taught me at BCU and messaged me asking if I was interested in joining the team. I immediately said yes and for a while it felt a bit surreal, still being a student and being involved in such a big organisation I admired. Fuse Birmingham joined the network in 2020 and I had a lot of support and guidance from the team even before I was a member. It was great to see a creative platform wanting to support and drive diversity in the region. Everyone on the team have so many different skills and expertise that makes Birmingham Design happen and its evident everyone cares for the creative scene here and is involved for the community.
Birmingham Design Festival 2021 looked great! How does it feel being part of such a creative city?
Thank you! It’s lovely to hear you referring to Birmingham being such a creative city. Because of obvious reasons we had to take a hybrid approach last summer, we had our talks online but we were lucky to have an exhibition in person. The exhibition followed the festivals theme that year (Colour) and was a series of 100 posters created by creatives who work or live here celebrating the city. It was great to see so many people there too, a lot of new friends we made online throughout the pandemic too. We also had those colourful posters displayed on billboards across the city which looked fantastic.
At times the city feels like the punching bag of the country with constant memes and jokes about it all over social media, but I feel quite proud about being from Birmingham. I think the city is so enriched with history and there are so many diverse, multi-cultural communities dotted all across the region. I don’t think I could see myself living anywhere else at the moment, the city is always changing and getting better. I find it more of a desirable place to live and work compared to London, where a lot of people still think is the only place to access creativity. Birmingham is known as the second city but the creative talent here is far from the second-best.
The mentoring scheme has been launched how important is this for creatives?
Mentoring is a word that get’s thrown around a lot and I think super important to remember that isn’t just a one-off thing. We feel that establishing an on-going relationship with someone in the creative industry is a lot more beneficial than just maybe a video call, one email or a single event. The BFF scheme is aimed at final year students and recent grads in our region. The scheme pairs a mentee up with a relevant industry mentor for them to establish a year long relationship. Personally I believe building a relationship with someone you trust will help you thrive in the industry. As a student/graduate I’ve always valued discussions I’ve had with creatives who have mentored me, and still chat to them when I need some help. Some emerging creatives might not have had opportunities to speak to practising professionals throughout their studies, so by having a platform like BFF to help guide them into the industry it really bridges the gap between education and industry.
So why design?
Growing up I guess subconsciously I liked a lot of design related content. I always liked road signs, symbols, loved comics and film posters. I had a few family members study creative courses but didn’t really pursue a career in them. One of my cousins used to study Games Design so I’d watch him work when I was visiting, I originally thought that’s what I wanted to do but I realised there’s a huge difference between playing games and actually designing them. At school I studied Graphics at GCSE and really fell in love with the various programmes and processes, then I joined a local college studying a Level 3 Diploma and a HND afterwards. The course was situated in a studio environment called FEED that emulated a design studio. Over the years I’ve had the usual “you won’t get a job in that” conversations but I felt I had learnt a lot from that course which made me realise I wanted to do design for the rest of my life. It’s nice to prove people wrong haha.
You’re a designer for Imbue, talk to us more about this.
Imbue is an artist who works across print, sculpture and various other mediums. We’ve known each other for a few years now and I used to help him over the years with exhibitions and we’d always chat at creative events in the city. I started out working for him as a Studio Assistant back in 2019 so throughout University my job involved helping with logistics, packing artwork and managing his studio. Recently, I was offered a Junior Designer role so for the last few months I’ve been designing packaging, products, some editorial elements as well as working on new art pieces with him. We have similar interests and always show each other experimental work and projects so it felt like the right move to be working with him.
I did some reflecting over the last few months and thought I had pretty much lost a lot of my time to be experimental at University because of the pandemic, and I was being hard on myself on finding a job to work in an agency/studio straight after graduating. But I realised I can be more experimental and by working in this environment I’m able to create work I always wanted to at University when I didn’t have access to the facilities.
Talk to us about the Birmingham chapter of Fuse
Fuse Birmingham’s aim is to showcase the talent of those from racialised backgrounds and/or communities. Our aim is to celebrate those creatives of colour who are often overlooked but create visually stunning work. Over the last two years we’ve primarily lived on social media showcasing work, sharing job listings and various other opportunities that would benefit our community. We’ve featured and met some incredible creatives including Illustrators, Graphic Designers, Product Designers and Photographers.
How did you get involved in this?
I had been following Fuse for a while, I had discovered the platform via the Creative Boom Podcast and was really enjoying the content being put out. We launched back in Summer 2020 when there was many discussions around the world about diversity and inclusivity. I saw a call out for creatives on Instagram to host Fuse in different cities and I applied for the role. I was fortunate enough to get the role and was supported instantly from my peers, friends and the creative scene in Birmingham.
How important is platforms such as Fuse?
I think any platforms that support underrepresented groups are extremely important. My primary exposure and entry into the creative industry has been through design education. Throughout my studies I was often shown creative practitioners from similar backgrounds, even though their work was great and I looked up to them, the majority of the time they didn’t ‘look’ like me. Many of my peers did not reflect this demographic and often created a sense of non belonging within the creative industry. So any platform that celebrates the work of an underrepresented community you should engage with it!
Do believe the industry is doing enough to be fair and diverse?
One way we’ve been trying to figure this out is through the Birmingham Design Survey. For two years now we’ve been running the survey to find insights into the working lives of creatives in our region, although it might be too early to suggest trends forming from the results, we hope by highlighting some of these inequalities in the industry that we know/presume exist we can champion change. I think things are slowly changing but we can always do better. I’ve seen some agencies I follow become more conscious about the diversity of their staff and are actively welcoming applications from all backgrounds. In the last year in I’ve seen positive change in the creative events space especially. Line-ups are no longer and shouldn’t just be white dudes talking about how great the Hacienda was, it’s so refreshing when you attend events and hear from a range of speakers from different backgrounds.
What can creative platforms such as this one do to help elevate voices of Creatives of Colour?
There’s no straight forward or just one answer to this. Personally, I think one of the main things to do is to ensure that you’re engaging with and reaching out to creatives of colour. I know that sounds obvious but it’s easy to fall into the trap of just featuring the same sorts of people. It’s important for creative platforms and look back and reflect and ask themselves difficult questions like ‘Are we really showcasing creatives from a range of backgrounds?’ There’s some great resources and platforms out there to search for creatives from under represented backgrounds. I’d recommend checking out the likes of Fuse, We are Pocc, Gal-dem and Spark & Co who are actively helping to elevate the voices of people of colour.
I want to start featuring more people on this platform so with this in mind, who are your standout creatives?
I thought I’d give some shout-outs to some Birmingham creatives, as it would be rude not to! Dan Silverstone is on the BDF team and is one of the most talented motion designers I’ve met. Cherie Kwok is an Illustrator who we recently featured on Fuse Birmingham who has some lovely illustrations. I’ve also been enjoying the work of Emily Birch, I really admire her attitude towards sustainability and up-cycling throughout her projects.
For my final question, whats next?
A few things I guess, in terms of myself I’m still trying to find my feet in the industry and where I want to ‘belong’. I think I want to carry on being experimental and continue to collaborate this year. Birmingham Design have some exciting new projects coming out over the next few months including a new Gather event, launching our shop and the first Birmingham Design Magazine. We’re also gearing up for the 2022 edition of BDF, we already have some fantastic speakers confirmed so keep an eye out for some announcements very soon!