Design: Bold as Branson

Sex, Drugs and Helvetica may seem like a crazy name for a one-day graphic design conference, but there’s a method to  the madness.

Nick Hallam (second from left) is one of four twenty-something founders of the event, along with Andy Murray (left) Zac Solomon and Tenielle Simonis. Hallam came up with the name over a few beers with Murray.

“We wanted it to be really obvious it was for the design community without calling it something blase and boring like Graphic,” he says. “We wanted to convey that we’re young and interested in doing things differently.”

Hallam, one of the brains behind non-profit organisation Positive Posters, says the group feels there is a disconnect between the types of events aimed at the design community and the needs of the designers themselves. So, after an hour and a half bouncing ideas and drinking a few more beers, they hit on the striking name.

Something of an entrepreneur, Hallam struck on the idea for Sex, Drugs and Helvetica when he overheard students talking about how expensive most of the big design conferences were. He felt compelled to offer a solution. 

“I asked them if a cheaper, single-day version would be better. The way we’re describing Sex, Drugs and Helvetica is, if Richard Branson ran a conference space this would be it. It’s no frills, high-quality, but affordable content.”

Aimed at the light pockets of emerging designers, the $60 early-bird ticket is enticing. “Our focus is about delivering the best quality content we can, from our friends in the industry, for an affordable price. We’d rather do four $60 conferences in one year than one $350 three-day course.”

The gathering, to be held at the Melbourne City Conference Centre, will present speakers from creative practices such as Motherbird, The Hungry Workshop, Beyond The Pixels and Chase & Galley, with the focus on walking attendees through complete projects, looking at all the highs and lows and providing practical advice.

Simonis says it’s about more than perving at pretty final products. “It’s not about sitting in awe, leaving with a fantastic feeling for a few days but then wondering what you actually learned. We want to give an honest experience, so [attendees] can overcome the three-day buzz and use what they learn in their design career.” 

She says their comparative youth helps keep the Sex, Drugs and Helvetica team connected. “I feel like we’re in touch with the finer details, being relatively new to the industry, having been through the education process, understanding what was missed. We want the things we wished we had known.”

■ Sex, Drugs & Helvetica at the Melbourne City Conference Centre, 333 Swanston St on September 28. Tickets: $80. Details: visit:

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