The aims of the first Design Lab were to:

  • Bring together a cross-section of the Creative Screen Sector in the West Midlands

  • Identify the challenges faced by the sector and key priorities

  • Share research and expertise 

  • Devise ideas and initiatives with the potential to renew and reform the sector

The event was divided into two separate sessions with distinct aims:

The first open session acted as a valuable mechanism in its own right for interaction between the regional industry, public sector bodies and leading national organisation, and it gave context to the closed industry Design Lab in the afternoon.

The Design Lab was a closed event, which encouraged, and created and environment for collaborative thinking about the development of a confident, sustainable and diverse Creative Screen Sector.

Session One Presentations


The morning sessions began with presentations from the BFICreative England, the AHRC-winning StoryFuturesinitiative based at Royal Holloway University, the West Midlands Production Fund.

And there was an important session, in which delegates were given an opportunity to feed back and influence the Local Industrial Strategy. That ‘live consultancy’ session helped inform the afternoon Design Lab.  

For the full agenda, see Appendix One.


The Design Lab

The Design Lab included more than 50 delegates, invited from across the region, representing different parts of the value chain of a range of industries, including film, television, games, immersive formats.

The session was led by Leamington-based Steve Stopps, who has project managed very successful games and helped develop innovative and sustainable business strategies in the region. He teaches at the National Film and Television School and is an experienced and deeply engaging leader of workshops.  

The methodology followed Design Thinking principles and used ‘scrum’ methods of collaborative working (illustrated initially by a game involving ping pong balls). 

Empathise: The session encouraged and understanding of the full context of the West Midlands challenge. The morning open session, and particularly the Local Industrial Strategy consultation exercise, was part of that process of understanding the range of challenges from a constructive, human perspective, rather than the narrow concerns, or specific grievances of any individual position.

Define: The collaborative process, created by Steve Stopps, enabled a very positive set of discussions about the issues for the sector as a whole. Putting people from different backgrounds and experiences around a table turned the debate into shared collective challenges to be resolved and was helpful in creating perspective. The suggestions were written on cards and organised into coherent sections.                                                                                                                                                                                               

Ideate: The human dynamic of the approach encouraged much freer thinking about solutions. The workshop explored potential ideas based on the identified challenges and found large areas of commonality.

The aims of the first Design Lab were clear: Bring together a cross-section of the industry, share research and initiatives and using a ‘scrum’ style approach, identify priorities for the sector and examine and suggest responses.

Prototype: The session identified a number of options for discussion, which will form the basis of a number of pilot and prototype developments. Those will be developed and refined over the coming weeks, including work at the next Design Lab.

Test: The WMSB will test development through targeted research and agile methodologies that will build on the culture of collaboration achieved at the first Design Lab. Each intervention will be measurable and shared across the network. The bureau aims to be a catalyst for development with all work developed with partners and open to all.


The Lab activity encouraged free expression of delegates’ thoughts on the core issues influencing the development of a diverse, sustainable and competitive sector. Although drawn from a wide range of disciplines and industries, there was a high degree of commonality in their concerns.

Some general observations emerged:

  •  There is a sense of optimism that the sector is in a position to grow, though that feeling is more based on a sense of potential than specific developments.

  • There is a strong belief in West Midlands’ talent and a belief that diversity can be our strength.

  • The Channel 4 campaign may not have succeeded but it helped create a sense of shared purpose.

  • There is a sense of new opportunities in immersive story forms.

  • A major theme was, that after a series of recent disappointments, “we need to start winning.”

In short, there is confidence that the region canbecome a UK creative powerhouse and that many of the factors are now in place. That is not just about existing talent but also a broader sense that the economics and ecosystem is opening up opportunities that the region can fill.

There was also realism about the barriers.

  • A continued brain drain, where much of the best new talent, often reluctantly, goes wherever the money, career opportunities and facilities take them beyond the region.

  • There are pockets of excellence but not really a coordinated networked value chain or a clear narrative.

  • There is a disconnection with the key commissioners of content.

  • The lack of coordination in sectoral development has blocked pathways to success.

  • The region needs more business skills to develop creative talent.

  • The top-down approach to development of the sector, dominated by a perceived establishment cannot and will not address core issues of sectoral development.

  • Diversity is our strength is too often a platitude and needs to be backed up by serious action.