Charles Williams on designing music festival identities (including this weekend's Bestival)

Charles Williams

Bestival 2016 gears up at midday tomorrow on the beautiful Isle of Wight.

We take a look at the months leading up to the good music and good times, in which London-based freelancer Charles Williams worked tirelessly to create it’s bold, eye-catching identity design. 

Manchester-born Charles specialises in illustration, typography and graphic design. He was asked by the creative director of Bestival to pitch designs for this year’s theme – 'the Future' – after his editorial work was spotted. 

Anyone who’s attending the festival, or looked into it, would have seen Charles’ three-dimensional, outer space infused neon-coloured logo (as seen below).


But designing a festival identity is a mammoth job. It includes not just a flat logo design, but also an animated digital presence, icons, typography, poster layout and merchandise to name a few.

The design brief gave Charles a lot of creative liberty. His design basically had to be Utopian-based, he says, and the rest was up to him.

"I have a style of working that seemed to fit nicely with [the Utopian] direction, so I just went to town on it in various ways in my sketches.

"They picked the 'isometric floating islands/metropolis' idea, which provided a really interesting framework for the whole project."


Although there were no direct artists that inspired Charles’ creative process, influences included Tokyo, Ridley Scott’s dark sci-fi film Blade Runner and "a sort of fairground-feel".

 "I start with loose sketches, then lots of tighter sketches, basically getting the design worked out on paper as much as possible before moving into Illustrator and creating the linework," he says.

 "Once this is signed off I explore colour and then when that is signed off I apply finishing touches like shading, texture [and] effects," he says. 


But Charles is not one to slack off - Bestival is his second festival identity project this year.

Charles pitched and won the hearts of organisers behind Tennessee’s Bonnaroo festival in June.

The design for this was focused on magic and the festival’s tagline "15 years of magic". His work was shaped by the meaning of Bonnaroo – a really good time – and a preference for his three-dimensional style. Not to mention lots of cute little bunnies. 

"I looked at a design that felt highly musical, but with a sense of magic and impossibility. This went down really well," he says. 

Bonnaroo commissioned Charles to design a fountain – a major feature of the festival. He created in collaboration with Jill Foliono, who brought the flat digital design to life.


He says designing the identity for both Bestival and Bonnaroo was a long process, and each aspect of the design had new challenges "that kept things interesting".

"The hardest bit was probably some of the technical aspects of preparing the flat design for animation as that was done at quite an advanced stage so it required breaking apart all the elements."

But of course, the best part was seeing the digital incarnation come to life. 

"They were both very smooth and well organised projects so it wasn't painful at all," he says.  These are some of his original sketches for Boonaroo.

Charles likes to apply a graphic approach to illustration, or a typography approach, or "even flirt with a totally self-indulgent fine arty approach, though that's slightly more risky territory". 

He says as long as you possess a continuous recognisable thread as a graphic artist, you can have a lot of freedom without excessively sticking to a style.

"That's something I like to pursue - cohesiveness and variety at the same time. This is why typography is interesting in the context of illustration, as each brief requires a slightly different approach in order to communicate the message. If that makes sense."

Charles is currently working on outdoor graphics with a Manchester architecture firm, as well as various magazine covers and editorial illustrations.

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